J. Edgar (2011)

Posted in Reviews by - February 28, 2012
J. Edgar (2011)

J. Edgar is a biopic of the highly driven, secretive, vain, paranoid, and complex character who helped modernise the FBI, and remained its head for 48 years until his death in 1972.

As well as being a crusader against crime, communism, and political dissenters, J.Edgar Hoover became a controversial figure on account of his secret files which he used to bully political leaders, even preventing 8 frightened Presidents from removing him from office. He also collected sensitive information on judges, writers, actors, and citizens in general.

Another controversy was his alleged homosexuality, which is highlighted in ‘J. Edgar’ when a stunning Ginger Rogers make Hoover uncomfortable with her suggestive remarks. A distraught Hoover then confides in his mother (Judi Dench), who encourages him to keep his secret safe, saying that she “would rather have a dead son than a daffodil for a son.”

Hoover, too, even concedes the point by stating that “when a man becomes a part of this bureau, he must so conduct himself, as to eliminate even the slightest possibility of criticism, as to his conduct.”

Consequently, throughout the movie, J. Edgar Hoover is shown to have little social life and to be still living at home with  his mother, whom he reveres. He is also portrayed as forming life-long attachments to just two other people, namely FBI Deputy Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), who is allegedly his lover, and his Head Secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), who in reality worked for Hoover for fifty-four years and never married.

As always, I was impressed by Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting and the passion he brought to the screen, as well as that of the other excellent cast members. Furthermore, he looked convincing as the make-up was applied to make him look like the elder version of Hoover, unlike that of Armie Hammer’s which was quite simply laughable. At least it did, though, bring a bit of unintended comical relief to an otherwise intense movie.

In reality, there was no J. Edgar Hoover real-life memoir like that mentioned in the movie, but the point made by Tolson towards the end that Hoover’s legend was riddled with self-delusion and lies was well made. Despite a sympathetic piece of directing by Clint Eastwood, the legacy of J. Edgar Hoover will continue to leave behind jaded historical memories, such as that of the eminent psychology professor Dr John Money, who described him as having;

“..a personality disorder, a narcissistic disorder with mixed obsessive features..paranoid elements, undue suspiciousness and some sadism. A combination of narcissism and paranoia produces what is known as an authoritarian personality. Hoover would have made a perfect high-level Nazi.”

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This post was written by James
Hi, My name is James Atticus and I have had a keen passion for movies ever since being blown away while watching 'A Trip to the Moon' back in 1902. Hardly surprisingly, I am a big sci-fi and horror fan, although my love of film extends throughout all the genres. One of my favourite quotes about cinema was told to me by Alfred Hitchcock, who said: "For me, the cinema is not a slice of life, but a piece of cake." To which I replied, "Don't mind if I do!"


  • Sabail

    I actually enoyjed this movie, but I can see where you’re coming from on several points. However, I think the lighting was very intentional in most scenes. The shadowy facades on the characters were very effective at showing it as a place of secrets, and I found that to be one of the best things about the movie. I also enoyjed the clever bit at the end where Hoover and Tolson talk and completely undermine everything Hoover had been dictating. To me it was the movie’s acknowledgement that you can never really know someone in a biopic, and I don’t think J. Edgar was an attempt to know the man. It simply paints a picture of him as a complex man, though I agree that his relationship with Watts should’ve been emphasized more than the one with his mother.I’ve heard others say the same with regards to the lighting but if you look at Eastwood’s films just about all of them are lit that way (very dim, heavy shadows, little color) so I don’t know if he put as much thought into it as it would accidentally appear. The revelation of the unreliable narrator was old hat and very predictable but the acting was good in those closing moments. DHS

    • Regina

      Well, I don’t think that J Edgar is going to shake the world, but I do think Leo deserved to get an Oscar nomination for this film. Aviator is arguably his best performance (even though I like him in Catch Me If You Can’) and this was in the same vein as Aviator. Even if Leo doesn’t finally get awarded for his acting, Eastwood could always sneak in as the best director.

      • Mbob

        Great subject never appropriately done on film before (does anyone remember The F.B.I. Story with James Stewart and Vera Miles?) and timely too as harbinger of historical things to come. Not surprised that the producers of Frost/Nixon would gravitate toward such material. Eastwood is major; DiCaprio will always get an A for ambition from me. The man wants to act. Maybe he’s miscast but he never phones it in. I think he would be a good theater actor. DiCaprio doing O’Neill or Albee or trying a great new contemporary playwright would be interesting.

    • Dood

      Yeah, spanning so many decades sometimes makes for a confusing narrative, but I thought the script did a great job at showing us a good side of Hoover, plus Eastwood’s direction was just so sure-handed and DiCaprio’s performance (distracting old-age makeup aside) was just stellar. So I quite liked this one really, as I do everything Eastwood does. Good review!

  • Jeeves

    I don’t know much about the real J. Edgar so I don’t know how much of the film is correct. Couldn’t have been easy doing a movie about one of the most secretive men in history. Thought Clint Eastwood pulled it off in a highly stylized and absorbing manner. Apart from the makeup of Armie Hammer, I thought it was a very decent biopic.

    • Noha

      If we are basing our Oscar possibilities solely off of the trailer, I would tend to disagree. And for this reason: You cannot watch this trailer and see DiCaprio without seeing the exact same performance in Shutter Island, The Aviator, Inception, and Blood Diamond. Unfortunately, IMO, he has started to become rather static in his performances. The characters are highly interchangeable.That is what will keep him and possibly the film, from getting an Oscar. It’s too familair based solely on the trailer. I think that’s one reason why he wasn’t nominated for Best Actor last time, because his Inception character was highly reminiscent of his Shutter Island character.TheScarletSp1der recently posted..

      • Andreas

        The sheer phoniness and creepiness of DiCaprio’s woefully fake and distracting old age appliance proves why make up maestro Dick Smith richly deserves his honorary Oscar this year. Little Big Man , The Exorcist and Amadeus all featured incredible Age make ups by the master Smith. Why is it decades later no one can seem to pull this effect off as convincingly as Smith did so long ago? Only his protege Rick Baker comes close! The Hoover make up proves unintentionally laughable and distracting while lingering on screen in the final product.

        • Lesley

          Okay, I admit it: I’m too chicken shit to post using my real name (just in case Di Caprio’s peolpe will fuck with anyone who dares to dis their guy). But seriously, Leo’s old-guy voice sounds like an Andy Samberg SNL spoof. Couldn’t they get an actor with more bottom? Leo’s a great actor but here he looks like a teenager playing Willy Loman. It’s no Ishtar but it looks pretty lame.

    • Izhan

      There is no doubt in my mind that Clint Eastwood is one great director just like his acntig which is to say over the top. With Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead actor in J.Egar both deserved oscars for this movie. Leonardo was robbed in Titanic but surely will get his just dews over his life time . I have only one citizen vote but ,we all out here knows he already has one for all his movies as he seems to do his homework well. Thanks Clint Eastwood & Leonardo DiCaprio for making our lives better.

  • Tanya

    Knowing that Clint hired Oscar-winning openly gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black to pen the script, the film explores J. Edgar Hoover’s alleged a) homosexuality and b) cross-dressing. Apparently, he had a lifelong close friendship with fellow FBI Associate Director Clyde Tolson, they lived together for years as roommates and when he died, Hoover left 100% of his estate to Tolson. Sounds like they were longtime (closeted) gay lovers/partners in a classic case of projection, Hoover sought his entire career to blackmail others so that they couldn’t out/blackmail him first. It’s also been reported that Hoover used to like to dress in drag as wait for it Vivian Vance!? The movie touches lightly on the subject (re: hand-touching scene in the car), but I just hope Dirty Harry doesn’t whitewash the true story in favor of well-intention, solemn Oscar bait. C’mon, at least we want a passionate kiss between Armie and Leo!!

    • Pami

      I didn’t buy DiCaprio as Howard Hughes in The Aviator ’cause I thought he was entirely too young for the role. Now a few years later, Leo’s filled out physically and got some gravitas to him. He looks good as J. Edgar.All you rainbow flag wavers, forget about a full-on, man-to-man kiss between Edgar and Tolson. All you’ll get is the hand-holding in the car. This is still America.Vivian Vance, though? LOL haven’t really liked this run of Eastwood flicks (with the exception of Gran Torino; set in an alternate-universe Detroit where there are lots of Cambodians WTF?), but as a history fan, I enjoyed this movie.

      • Kishor

        Even more so than with Aviator, DiCap is glaringly, miscast completely in over his head. And I’m sorry, but even if this film romanticizes Hoover only 6%, that’s 6% too much. He was easily one of the greatest traitors to the values and integrity of this nation to ever reach such a level of power, and his perverse death-grip control over the FBI represents a scandalous legacy of shame this country has still yet to face.

  • Sheila

    Good review. There are problems with the story mainly because it feels like we are just going through all of these events that happened in Hoover’s life, without any real connection or anything. However, DiCaprio’s performance is great and Eastwood really does know how to direct any type of film and at least bring out some rich drama with its story even if it may be a bit muddled. Check out my review when you get the chance.

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