I admit that I was only interested in watching J. Edgar (directed and produced by Clint Eastwood)due to Leonardo DiCaprio starring in it. He is one of my top seven favorite actors, and I am among the group of people that felt that DiCaprio was robbed of an Oscar this year (for his role in Wolf of Wall Street). Leonardo Di Caprio carefully plays both the good and shadowy aspects of J. Edgar’s lifelong career in the FBI. The film shows how his mother had a strong influence on his professional and personal demeanor (played by Judi Dench). The positive side of him that the movie showed was through the Lindbergh kidnapping incident where he showed determination to track down whoever was responsible for the kidnapping. One of the incidents in the movie that showcases the shadowy side of Hoover is shown through how he reacts to Martin Luther King Jr. accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Naomi Watts plays the role of Helen Gandy, Hoover’s personal secretary. Arnie Hammer plays the role of Clyde Tolson, a man who initially became FBI clerk and is listed to have eventually been promoted to Associate Director of FBI. The end of the J. Edgar movie lists the following facts:
The contents of Hoover’s “personal” and “confidential” papers will never be known. Only a few clues from misfiled documents have surfaced.
Clyde Tolson inherited Hoover’s estate, moved into his house, and accepted the U.S. flag draped over Hoover’s coffin.
Clyde Tolson is buried a few yards away from Hoover’s grave in the Congressional Cemetary.
Throughout an illustrious directing career Clint Eastwood has delivered outstanding movies such as Unforgiven, Mystic River, and Million Dollar Baby, for which he has won five Academy Awards, for best Picture, Best Director, and including the Irving Thalberg Life Achievement Award. My personal favorite of all his directed movies is Gran Torino.
The actors who have worked with him have been blessed with Oscar: Gene Hackman for Unforgiven, Tim Robbins and Sean Penn for Mystic River, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby.
When I heard Clint Eastwood was doing a movie about Hoover, I admit I was somewhat excited, although it would be a challenging movie to do.
I wondered would it deal with the relationship with the Kennedys, conspiracy theories, Hoover's alleged homosexuality, and alleged crossdressing, if it would deal with the entire career, if it would dare to show him in all his unpleasantness and darkness.
If Hoover were alive today, I think he would be horrified at this movie. Undoubtedly, no such movie could have been made while he was alive.
J Edgar deals with the entire span of J Edgar's career and makes brave choices in portraying the relationship between he and his No 2, Colson. The screenplay was written by same person who wrote the screen play for Milk.
Leonardo DiCaprio making his first movie apart from Martin Scorsese in 12 years does an outstanding job in the title role, as does Arnie Hammer in the role of Colson. Naomi Watts plays Hoover's long time secretary to whom he proposes early in the movie, and Judi Dench plays his domineering and controlling mother.
We see certain conflicts, and Hoover's use of Machivellian tactics in pursuing communists, upholding his position as head of the FBI through investigating the high ranking politicians who proved a threat. Whatever one thinks about Hoover one has to acknowledge some brilliance particuarly in organising, popularising the use of fingerprinting evidence, organising a national criminal database leveraging the Lindbergh tragedy to increase his own powers, and creating a highly respected investigative organisation.
It was interesting to see how he was able to use propaganda to boost the reputation of the FBI. At one time the gangsters seemed to hold sway in the public consciousness as heroes, until the FBI's machine gun toting G men replaced them. We also see Hoover's vanity and narcissism in full display, and his racism particularly towards Martin Luther King.
The Hoover story unfolds with Hover dictating his memoirs to a succession of agents. Why would he not use his secretary for this? It seems he wishes to tell his story to these people for vanity, and to promote himself as a legendary icon.
In reality, Hoover was a temple of secrets, and probably the least likely person you could imagine would write his own memoirs. Although, he secretly tape recorded JFK, and MLK for exmaple, his relationship with Colson could possibly have ended his career if the true nature of the relationship became public. It's well known for example that Hoover did not allow women agents, nor did he hire African Americans. Yet, we have him dictating his memoirs at one point to an African American agent.
One of the challenges with the story was the lack of a continuous protagonist, he mostly does battle with entities rather than individuals, such as communism and organised crime. By the 1960s apparently, he got soft on organised crime, while Bobby Kennedy got hard. Yet we have only two scenes in the movie with Bobby Kennedy.
Another difficulty is the excessive use of makeup on several of the actors. With DiCaprio it's fine, but with Naomi Watts, and Arnie Hammer they wear bloodshot contact lenses which was over the top and unnecessary, and distracting. Old people do not necessarily have bloodshot eyes.
I thought the performances by both DiCaprio and Hammer were deserving of Oscar recognition, though neither were nominated.
While Clint Eastwood has probably brought me more enertainment than anyone as both an actor and director, I am not as staunch a supporter of this movie as the others in recent years such as Changeling, Gran Torino, and Invictus. Nevertheless I give it 4 stars because I think it was a very challenging movie to do well.
I hope this was helpful.
This speculative biopic of the controversial FBI director stars Leonardo DiCaprio. The story opens in 1970, as Hoover is dictating his history of the Bureau; in flashbacks, we see his pivotal role the Lindburgh case and his battles with Communists, the Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Martin Luther King, Jr. He was also obsessed with his doting mother (Judi Dench) and his long-time Assistant Director, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).
The story is, in turns, exciting and boring, heartfelt and cheesy and has two insurmountable flaws: DiCaprio is horribly miscast as Hoover (he still looks and sounds like Jack Dawson, despite supposedly aging 53 years) and the terrible old-age make-up used for Hoover, Tolson, and Hoover's secretary (Naomi Watts) is absolutely terrible. Tolson, in particular, looks like Boris Karloff's Mummy and even though director Eastwood filmed the entire movie in dim, half-light, the make-up is distracting and never convincing.
I found the story of Hoover's life interesting and came away feeling quite sorry for this sad, tortured man, but the casting and make-up ruined it for me.