Expert direction by Clint Eastwood and a tour de force by Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role help make J. Edgar
a fascinating, if somewhat less than thoroughly compelling, portrait of one of the most complex and conflicted Americans of the 20th century. Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black's narrative moves freely among various stages of J. Edgar Hoover's life and career, framed by scenes in which the aging FBI director dictates his memoirs to an admiring young agent. Major events include Hoover's crusade against supposed Communists; his involvement in the capture and trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who was convicted of kidnapping and murdering Charles Lindbergh's infant son; the creation of the infamous "confidential" files he kept on his many enemies; his relationship with Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), Hoover's lifelong friend, companion, and conscience (while Tolson was clearly gay, the much-discussed issue of Hoover's homosexuality is suggested but not explicit); and his vendetta against Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. The point of view is not entirely unsympathetic, but while it's clear that Hoover was responsible for several crime-fighting innovations, it's equally apparent that this coarse, insecure, socially inept man remained forever under the sway of his overbearing mother (Judi Dench), was only too happy to break the law when it suited him, hectored and scolded others with self-righteous vigor, and lied shamelessly about his own heroic exploits. In view of all that, it's easy to understand why Hoover's legacy is controversial, to say the least.
DiCaprio does a fine job of staying in character (including his East Coast accent), and if his makeup as an older man isn't completely convincing, the dark palette employed by cinematographer Tom Stern throughout the movie (even a daytime scene at a racetrack finds most of the spectators' faces shadowed by their hat brims) makes that much less apparent. As for Eastwood, he has long since established himself as a master of his craft, and although the lengthy J. Edgar has its tedious moments, this is an engaging, admirable film. And while Hoover was almost totally humorless, the movie isn't; it's unlikely that the scene in which Hoover receives the news of John F. Kennedy's assassination while secretly listening to an audiotape of King having illicit sex really happened, but it sure is entertaining. --Sam Graham
From the Studio
The Most Powerful Man in the World.
J. Edgar explores the public and private life of one of the most powerful, controversial and enigmatic figures of the 20th century. As the face of law enforcement in America for almost fifty years, J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) was feared and admired, reviled and revered. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life.
During his lifetime, J. Edgar Hoover would rise to be the most powerful man in America. As head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for nearly 50 years, he would stop at nothing to protect his country. Through eight presidents and three wars, Hoover waged battle against threats both real and perceived, often bending the rules to keep his countrymen safe. His methods were at once ruthless and heroic, with the admiration of the world his most coveted, if ever elusive, prize.
Hoover was a man who placed great value on secrets–particularly those of others–and was not afraid to use that information to exert authority over the leading figures in the nation. Understanding that knowledge is power and fear poses opportunity, he used both to gain unprecedented influence and to build a reputation that was both formidable and untouchable.
He was as guarded in his private life as he was in his public one, allowing only a small and protective inner circle into his confidence. His closest colleague, Clyde Tolson, was also his constant companion. His secretary, Helen Gandy, who was perhaps most privy to Hoover's designs, remained loyal to the end... and beyond. Only Hoover's mother, who served as his inspiration and his conscience, would leave him, her passing truly crushing to the son who forever sought her love and approval.
As seen through the eyes of Hoover himself, "J. Edgar" explores the personal and public life and relationships of a man who could distort the truth as easily as he upheld it during a life devoted to his own idea of justice, often swayed by the darker side of power.
Oscar® winner Clint Eastwood ("Gran Torino," "Million Dollar Baby," "Unforgiven") directed the film from a screenplay by Oscar® winner Dustin Lance Black ("Milk"). Academy Award® nominee Leonardo DiCaprio ("Inception," "Blood Diamond") stars in the title role. "J. Edgar" also stars Academy Award® nominee Naomi Watts ("21 Grams") as Helen Gandy, Hoover's longtime secretary; Armie Hammer ("The Social Network") as Hoover's protégé Clyde Tolson; Josh Lucas ("The Lincoln Lawyer") as the legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh, whose son's kidnapping changes the public profile of the F.B.I.; and Oscar® winner Judi Dench ("Shakespeare in Love") as Hoover's over-protective mother, Anne Marie Hoover. --© Warner Bros.