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.”