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 the early seventies, a sedulously organized narrative and impeccable period design fully realize the zeitgeist of these eras. Operating as a quintessential unreliable narrator, the g-man chief dictates his memoirs to bureau underlings in the latter period's framing narrative. However, fully half of this feature's 137 minutes are assigned depiction of Hoover's marginalized personal life, and as a result, far too many of his most egregious activities are shunted to the periphery. Hoover's romance with Associate Director Clyde Tolson unfolds as an ardent and genuinely affectionate matter spanning Tolson's 45-year career, and his subordination to his mother deftly indicates the genesis of many neuroses and ambitions. Yet too much is omitted: COINTELPRO is merely alluded to in later sequences, but Hoover's trifling dispute with Martin Luther King, Jr. is granted full focus. While the Lindbergh kidnapping and Bruno Hauptmann's apprehension are provided rightful predominance, and Emma Goldman's deportation an adequate overview, the bureau's winning war against famed bank robbers is given short shrift, exploited primarily as a means to emphasize Hoover's unconscionable, self-promotional fictions.
DiCaprio's JEH is comparable to that of his Howard Hughes: a dearth of physical likeness is compensated by a skillful mimicry of voice, mannerisms and sensibilities, and he furnishes some measured profundity to the federal icon's bombast and controversy. Likewise, Judi Dench imparts a momentous presence as Hoover's imperious mother, and Naomi Watts' stiff poise as his unswervingly faithful secretary Helen Gandy is wholly sincere. However, the superlative performance here is Armie Hammer's, playing Tolson with a gentle balance of sensitivity and impassioned frustration, despite his limited resemblance to the Associate Director. Damon Herriman makes the most of his brief, unnerving moment as Hauptmann, but not all among the supporting cast are so successful. As Bobby Kennedy, Jeffrey Donovan certainly looks and sounds his part, but he's too stilted for the role. In contrast, Christopher Shyer's Nixon is ably performed, but he hardly looks at all like Tricky Dick; Anthony Hopkins and even Dan Hedaya were much better! Despite his proven renown as an actor's director, Eastwood is here unable to spur his deficient players to the virtuosity of his leads.
James Murakami's position as Eastwood's preferred production designer is again assured, as his collaboration with set designer Gary Fettis, costumer Deborah Hopper and art directors Greg Berry and Patrick Sullivan have resulted in a quality period picture comparable to Scorsese's best. DP Tom Stern emphasizes chilly locales and the stainless sheen of federal offices with luminous photography of muted hues, but these qualities draw attention to some substandard aging makeup: the elderly Tolson often appears so artificial that Hammer's excellence is nearly undermined by it.
Despite its ample merits and faults, this is worth seeing, but inevitably insufficient. Both Hoover's life and the institutions it reflected ought be enacted in far greater protraction and proportion, as either a televised serial or lengthier epic feature for which American viewers haven't much tolerance.
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 … more
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 … more
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 … more
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 … more
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. … more
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 … more
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 … more
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 … more
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 … more