J Edgar

Film, Drama
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J Edgar

Clint Eastwood hits the history trail again for this strange, dark and ambivalent biopic of J Edgar Hoover, the man who made the FBI and its predecessor, the Bureau of Investigations, his fiefdoms for a large part of the twentieth century. Just as Hoover operated in the shadows of Washington for more than 50 years, so Eastwood’s film exists in the half-dark: he and writer Dustin Lance Black (‘Milk’) flit between the beginning of Hoover’s career in the 1920s and its twilight in the 1960s, always returning to the muted, brown tones and sombre ambience of his office. Faces are half-lit and rooms feel starved of sun. Hoover’s character, too, struggles to remain obscured from the glare of truth.

‘J Edgar’ is also smart enough to cast a shadow over hard facts. Versions of events remain versions, a viewpoint stressed by the framing device of Hoover narrating his unreliable memoirs to younger FBI agents. The film is more interested in offering a thoughtful character study than delivering hard-and-fast reconstructions. It gives us Leonardo DiCaprio, first fresh-faced, later caked in make-up, as Hoover: a man of strong moral principles willing to resort to immoral ‘rule-bending’ to see his will carried out.

DiCaprio’s Hoover is arrogant but nervy, quick to lose control emotionally if he loses power in public or private. It’s a push-and-pull portrait when it comes to our sympathy. We understand his enthusiasm for forensic science and an FBI run as a meritocracy but recoil at his willingness to blackmail presidents and attempt to persuade Martin Luther King to turn down the Nobel Peace Prize. One can only surmise on Eastwood and Black’s individual opinions of Hoover, but one imagines that their perspectives on his long career may complement each other and meet in the middle to offer a biopic that is unusually layered and two-headed. One suspects Eastwood as the more conservative influence on Black’s youthful revisionism.

The film is sympathetic both to Hoover’s ambition and patriotism and the personal dynamics that defined his character for good or ill. The latter include the love of an overpowering mother, played with an Oedipal flirtatiousness by Judi Dench, and, most provocatively, the constant presence of a personal and professional companion, Clyde Tolson, played by Armie Hammer. Considering some of the wilder accusations thrown at Hoover in the past, including orgies and cross-dressing in public, the coy hand-holding between Tolson and Hoover, and one scene in which he tries on his mother’s dress after her death, feel respectful and restrained. We’re left with a pleasing, intelligent film happy to describe Hoover’s behaviour as monstrous but too balanced and searching to damn him as a monster.

By: Dave Calhoun


Release details

Release date: Friday January 20 2012
Duration: 0 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenwriter: Dustin Lance Black
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio
Naomi Watts
Josh Lucas
Armie Hammer

Average User Rating

2.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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Very good film.Long but Hoover had a long reign! DiCaprio proves once again that he's an excellent actor and Clint Eastwood never lets his audience down.Fab storyteller.Naomi Watts gives a solid performance. It reminded me too of 'Citizen Kane' although I don't think it reaches those heights as a complete body of work. See it....but being a thinking-person's film it may not be a great idea to go to the last house--you need to be fresh!

Felt slow despite the number of events that took place within the film. Somehow never got to the centre of the J.Edgar character though I'm not sure if this was due to script, performance or direction. It was an ok way to fill the afternoon, but I'm sure there are better things to do. I would give this 2.5 if I could.

Quite a relief after G.T, Hereafter and the longer than needed Rugby one. As said, prosthetics near laughable here and there and not exactly ground breaking but a worthy 2+ hrs. Watched, with trepidation, after THE ARTIST (tough act to follow) but Clint, well, far from ruined my day lets say! 7/10

I was really looking forward to this movie, a few things let it down massively. You dont really feel you get into the depths of J Edgar's character, - it does remain all very polite. Too much dialogue at times. Prosthetics was the most distracting, would have been better if there was an older and younger Edgar. You can really hear Leo's young voice and his movements as an old man aren't convincing. He's great in other movies like 'catch me if you can' and 'the 'aviator'. (not a Leo hater!) Didn't find the cinematography all that dynamic either. Perhaps there were budget issues on a lot of these matters, but unfortunately it really shows. All is not bad though, Naomi Watts is brilliant and very convincing young and old...

DiCaprio was brilliant as usual, but was upstaged by the bizarre make-up. His was quite convincing, to be fair, but Naomi Watts had a weird turkey neck thing, and Armie Hammer - I suppose it was going to be difficult to make him look old, because he's just so young and lovely. Performances were good all round, but I definitely felt, particularly towards the end, that things were getting a bit syrupy. The central relationship was interesting, as was all the stuff about forensic investigation. And of course Judy Dench was brilliant.

DiCaprio's performance is brilliant. It reminded me the character Citizen Kane in the classic film of the same name, directed and starring by Orson Wells seventy years ago, considered by many the best American film, nominated and winner of Academy Awards. Because of the issue of citizenship, the degree of conviction of both characters, and how was depicted by bodily mechanical movements that express their ability to have a cold mind. DiCaprio manages to represent his physical contundency, even though his height is lower than that of Orson's, though had gained some weight for this purpose. I would not be surprised to know that DiCaprio has carefully studied Orson's performance for his characterization of Hoover.