J. Edgar Hoover, an iconic man in American history, has been honored with a biopic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Clint Eastwood. J. Edgar chronicles the start of J. Edgar Hoover’s job as FBI director in the 1920s and switches to the end of his reign in the 1970s. Throughout the movie, Hoover’s accomplishments and work with the FBI are shown. But more importantly, we get to see a more personal side of Hoover, his relationships with his mother (Judi Dench), secretary (Naomi Watts), and trusted second-in-command, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Despite its flaws, J. Edgar still manages to be one of my favorite movies of the year.
J. Edgar Hoover was a very secretive man. Rumors circulated about his alleged romantic relationship with Clyde Tolson. The biggest rumor was an allegation that Hoover was a cross-dresser. It’s important to know that there was never any hard evidence that proved these rumors as true. Since little is known about Hoover, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black compiles all the stories and rumors about Hoover and sets them forth in this biopic.
I was always intrigued by Hoover, particularly because of the rumors. From what I know of him, he was a challenging and very unlikable individual, so I was curious to see how this movie would portray him. Black paints Hoover in a more sympathetic light. That is seen mainly through his personal relationships. As FBI director, Hoover was obsessed with glory and control, even using blackmail in order to gain power over those more powerful than him. Still, Black’s script is a little weak. His decision to move between Hoover’s early days and his last days at the FBI doesn’t let the story dig deep into the rumors against Hoover. At times, the transitions felt too abrupt and the story seemed muddled.
As for Clint Eastwood, the filmmaking was good, but I wouldn’t consider it his best work. The coloring is so saturated at the beginning, it seemed almost black-and-white. I think it worked well with the tone of the story. The makeup was actually pretty impressive. DiCaprio as the older Hoover looked really convincing. Although, Hammer’s older Clyde Tolson was overdone; he was practically unrecognizable. The score, which Eastwood composed, was too simple. I was hoping for something grander; it was too quiet. The pacing of the film faltered often. The beginning was directionless. I didn’t understand where it was going. Lots of names and positions are thrown at you, and you have to keep up with all of them, yet you’re unsure why you should even bother.
At this point, I started to get worried that this movie wouldn’t be as good as I hoped. However, the movie started to gain pace on Hoover’s date with Ms. Gandy. It’s the first real light-hearted moment in the movie, and the instant connection and understanding between Gandy and Hoover is interesting. The next interesting moment is when Hoover meets Tolson. It became clear at this point, that Hoover’s relationships will be the driving force of the film. Yes, all the while, he did this and that at the FBI. Hoover is the narrator throughout the film, explaining all his accomplishments proudly, so they can be recorded and written into a memoir. As the narrator, he never elaborates on his relationships; we rely on the scenes that are displayed before us.
Leo DiCaprio is brilliant as J. Edgar Hoover. I was blown away by his performance. He managed to get every Hoover nuance, got the accent down, and transformed from a young Hoover to the old Hoover effortlessly. No other actor could have done it better. DiCaprio took a very hard, unlikable character and somehow made me care about him. I mean, Hoover is hardly an admirable guy, and at times he’s a little pathetic, but Leo’s performance gave Hoover a heart. God, he was just so good. Without a doubt, Leo DiCaprio will get an Oscar nod for this portrayal. (Actually, I think this may actually end up being Leo’s year to win!) Armie Hammer also has a slight chance of being recognized during awards season. His Clyde Tolson was the perfect counterpart for DiCaprio’s Hoover. Their chemistry was excellent. The best scenes of the film were between Tolson and Hoover. Hammer gave Tolson a sweet sensitivity that juxtaposed Hoover’s rigid seriousness. These moments are what took this film to another level. Their romance wasn’t over-the-top. It was quite understated, yet it remained intense and extraordinarily meaningful. The last scene of dialogue between them is such a touching revelation; you finally understand the extent of their love for each other. DiCaprio and Hammer are why I loved this film. Frankly, their performances overshadow the rest of the film’s flaws.
Did Hoover really have a relationship with Clyde Tolson? Did he really blackmail high-ranking officials? Did he really cross-dress? I don’t know. What I do know is that this movie will be met with mixed reviews. The thing is I didn’t sit through this film, watching it critically. I watched it, looking to be entertained and enlightened in any way shape or form. My initial reaction to the film was love. I loved it. Yes, thinking about the film later gave me a chance to recognize its flaws. Yet, honestly I can’t let anything take away from my initial reaction. I truly enjoyed J. Edgar, and while it doesn’t openly appeal to young audiences, I think many young folks will like it too.
J. Edgar will release into theaters Friday, November 11th.
[Note: We ALL know I'm a big Gossip Girl fan, so of course, I was excited to see Ed Westwick in this film. However, his role is actually very small, so there was really nothing note-worthy about it. But it was cool seeing him!]