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J. Edgar

A biographical movie directed by Clint Eastwood

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Too Much Power for One Man

  • Nov 9, 2011
One of my longstanding fascinations with history is the way we deify or vilify historical figures. Yes, we all know that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson preached big words about freedom while holding slaves, but those are just two examples, and neither one tells the full story: There are documents which indicate that Wash and TJ were aware of their hypocrisy, but thought slavery would fade away naturally in time. Martin Luther King was known for his dream, and for principled non-violent resistance. I would like to know more about Martin Luther King the womanizer. (Yes.) Hitler personified evil, but pioneered certain progressive programs which the world still uses today, anti-smoking being one. Che Guevara is admired by much of the world, except for escapees from Cuba, who by almost every account see him as an executioner and a ruthless power monger who killed and imprisoned at will, ruined the Cuban economy, and was trying to invade a country when he took a very deserved bullet to the head.

99.9 percent of the time, there's going to be a gray area. One of America's best-known gray characters is J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director who is both loved for his unwavering protection of his country and hated for the means he employed to justify his ends. Even today, decades after his death, J. Edgar Hoover remains a polarizing figurehead in American mythos. Some love him because of the serious lengths he went to to protect his country from people who really were serious threats. Others hate him for exaggerating threats and beginning the intrusive measures the government uses to get into our lives.

In J. Edgar, director Clint Eastwood deftly walks the fine line, carefully giving us a series of faded gray facts, trying to avoid taking sides on Hoover at all costs. For the most part we get what we see, and what we see is a fierce bulldog of a man. Hoover as portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio is worthy of both admiration and indignation, who the audience can both love and hate. It seems that whenever J. Edgar is about to swing too far in one of those directions, Eastwood automatically pulls back, as if to say "Hey, I'm just reporting the facts here. I'm not trying to pick sides!"

J. Edgar shows us little of Hoover's personal life. This makes sense; the movie shows early that he was picked to head up the FBI because of his lack of a personal life, and the little we see of that side of Hoover feels like little more than speculation. We get nothing of Hoover's past before he joined the FBI. We learn that Hoover was very close to his mother and that she taught him everything he knew and believed about the morals of right and wrong. We get that Hoover begins using forms of science which are in doubt - like fingerprinting and identification of wood grains - and is therefore seen as a bit of a kook. But as the movie goes into its conclusion, it begins to imply that not everything we saw before it was real, and that Hoover may indeed have been truly out of his mind.

The personal moments, however, do feel pretty far between. For the most part, J. Edgar does everything it can to detach itself from its subject matter, and so in the few moments when there is a real tenderness to the scenes, it's truly earned. Hoover himself seems detached at times from everything going on around him. He is cold and steely, an apt mind who knows how to do his job the right way and how to get his beloved department to look good while doing it. So it's surprising when he breaks down and shows that he can become attached to the rest of the world after all.

One of the more interesting things Eastwood does in J. Edgar is explore the idea of Hoover's sexuality. Is he or isn't he? The movie never comes right out and says that Hoover is gay, but it is very strongly implied. If Eastwood was trying to be subtle about this subject, he failed brutally. Early in the movie, Hoover hires a right-hand man named Clyde Tolson, and Tolson is the only person in the movie besides his mother with whom Hoover has private scenes. Transvestism is very lightly implied. There is a lot of speculation about the real Hoover's sexuality, and writer Dustin Lance Black, who wrote Milk, is clearly taking the gay side. For Black, it appears to be a confirmed issue.

J. Edgar Hoover is the main character of J. Edgar. If the title couldn't make anyone see that, then the way the movie is presented definitely will. J. Edger is so completely about Hoover that Eastwood doesn't even so much as show Hoover's interactions with the various Presidents he works with. Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy have meetings with Hoover during the movie, but nothing is seen - Hoover walks in, the Oval Office door closes, and the scene just switches.

The only problem I have with J. Edgar is unfortunately a fairly major one. The story is told through ham-fisted dialogue which sounded like it was more meant to be a mouthpiece for screenwriter Black. It's told through Hoover telling his story to a biographer, which of course means a series of flashbacks. J. Edgar ultimately switches in and out of the past and present in a very sudden fashion. It gets tough at certain times to tell just what era the movie is supposed to be in. The cuts don't feel like they're cuts, and so they tend to flow naturally. This is ordinarily a good thing, but when flashing back and forth it adds to the confusion.

J. Edgar is an examination. It isn't meant to be an Oliver Stone political thriller. What Clint Eastwood does is present you with the facts, a series of images, and let you draw your own conclusions.

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November 16, 2011
Completely agree with your review. I really like the film a lot and thought Eastwood handled the material very well.
November 10, 2011
I always watch movies directed by Eastwood....I guess it is because his films always strike me as something simple when it came to looks and camerawork; and yet, it fits the narrative all the time. I was supposed to see this one last night, but I was just too tired from work that to see this at my condition, I may not enjoy it. Thanks for the excellent review! I'll comment more once I've seen it.
November 10, 2011
I am going to see it on Friday morning. Interesting reading your thoughts on the film. Will share mine tomorrow.
More J. Edgar (2011 film) reviews
review by . November 23, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Possible Spoilers Alert. I really enjoyed this film. I found it quite fascinating that the FBI had such a hard battle to get initiated into American government and that each new President wanted to fire Hoover and disband the FBI.      Without Hoover, we wouldn't have FBI, kidnapping wouldn't be a federal crime (brought on by the Lindberg kidnapping), the agents wouldn't be armed or have any right to arrest criminals, and we wouldn't have a fingerprint database …
review by . November 16, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Oscar worthy performance for Leonardo - but no awards for makeup - J. Edgar
I rated J. Edgar a four based on Leonardo's DiCaprio's performance.   Clink Eastwood slow placing seems completely appropriate to me in this film, although I have read many reviews complaining about the pacing.  At two and a half hours the movie is long, but I was kept spellbound by Leonardo's tranformation into J. Edgar Hoover.   In my opinion he is a shoe in for a best actor nomination this year.   I thought Judi Dench was excellent as always playing J. Edgar's …
review by . November 02, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
J. Edgar: The Assemblage of Hollywood's Finest
             There is no question that J. Edgar is a remarkable man. He is the father of the Federal Bureau of Investigations and revolutionized the logistics of crime scene forensics; nevertheless, like any other man, he is not one of immaculate morality. There were accusations of corruption and disapproval over his use of espionage in his lengthy 48 years as the FBI’s director that began in 1924 and ended in 1972.  Behind the scenes, he had an egotistical …
review by . September 28, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
review by . June 19, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
DiCaprio seems to amaze me with his string of exceptional performances (Blood Diamond, Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator, Inception, Shutter Island) and he once again delivers as the founder of the FBI who kept a file on everyone and was the most feared man in America. Told as a sort of memoir, Hoover is nearing the end of his life and calls in an agent to write down his story.    Starting with witnessing the near assasination of a Senator. He finds a leaflet supporting the US …
review by . November 10, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Star Rating:         Leonardo DiCaprio has proven himself a masterful actor, but his performance in Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar is sure to put him on the same shelf as Sean Penn, Meryl Streep, Viggo Mortensen, Johnny Depp, and Christian Bale – actors who inhabit their roles so convincingly that the real person essentially disappears. As J. Edgar Hoover, who became the head of the FBI in 1924 and remained so until his death in 1972, DiCaprio thoroughly captures …
review by . November 08, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'J. Edgar' 'Two Jews On Film' Duke It Out Over Clint Eastwood's Latest Bio Pic (Video)
      By Joan Alperin-Schwartz      Every once in awhile, you experience a performance by an actor that simply blows your mind...And that's exactly what happened to me, when I watched Leonardo DiCaprio portray J. Edgar Hoover  in Clint Eastwood's new film, 'J. Edgar'      .What makes a great performance are the subtle things an actor does...things that inform the character...a gesture, a …
review by . November 30, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Eastwood's filmic account of Hoover the Voracious, the Fastidious, the Venal - self-aggrandizing, mother's son, political paranoiac, closet queer, social inept, vindictive bureaucrat - exudes twentieth century Americana ethos, highlighting the contentious FBI director's harried exploits and tortured, marginalized private life.      Alternating betwixt Hoover's ascension and heyday in the nineteen twenties and thirties and his twilight years in the sixties through …
review by . September 16, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Should have been better
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 …
About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston ()
Ranked #26
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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About this movie


J. Edgar is an upcoming biographical drama film directed by Clint Eastwood,[1] from a script by Dustin Lance Black. The film will focus on the career of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover from the Palmer Raids onwards, including an examination of his private life as an alleged closeted homosexual.[2]
The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Damon Herriman, Ed Westwick and Jeffrey Donovan. J. Edgar is slated to open the AFI Fest 2011 in Los Angeles on November 3, 2011, and to be released on November 9, 2011, in the United States by Warner Bros. Pictures.
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Drama, History, Clint Eastwood, Leonardo Dicaprio, Gangsters, Naomi Watts, Bio Pics, J Edgar Hoover, J Edgar Movie Review, Armie Hammer


Director: Clint Eastwood
Genre: Crime, Drama
Release Date: 2011.11.11
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Dustin Lance Black
Runtime: 137 minutes
Studio: Imagine Entertainment, Malpaso Productions, Wintergreen Productions
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