J. Edgar

History Buffs Will Like It, Though DiCaprio Is Unforgettable

J. EdgarJ. Edgar is not a great movie by any definition, but it is a completely entertaining experience. Clint Eastwood has done a remarkable job bringing to the screen one of the most twisted success stories of the 20th century here in our country, and it really is a movie that you should take the time to see.

From the beginning, let me admit that I hated Mr. Hoover on multiple levels. Though clearly a brilliant man, there is little question that he had a twisted heart that all but ruined him in the end. Though he led the FBI from 1924 to his death in 1972, he was always a man trapped in the past, and history does not treat him fondly in any respect.

What causes J. Edgar to shine is the incredibly remarkable performance of Leonardo DiCaprio, who alternates between the young Mr. Hoover and the bitter old man he eventually became. DiCaprio literally shines as he exposes Hoover’s multiple weaknesses, and it is a performance that will likely have far more lasting meaning than Hoover’s actual life.

Despite Hoover’s obvious strengths, his manifest weaknesses were appalling. He clearly prided himself on maintaining a personal dossier on most of the powerful people in this country, including our presidents. The scenes where he displays his contempt for President Kennedy to his brother Bobby helps remind everyone what a devious person Hoover was to his very core.

What Eastwood also succeeds in doing is treating the focus on Hoover’s sexuality in an honest way. Hoover’s longtime traveling companion, Clyde Tolson (a rather effective Armie Hammer), was appointed from the beginning as the second in command of the FBI, and it is all but impossible to ignore their personal relationship.

Naomi Watts is also quite good as Hoover’s longtime devoted secretary, Helen Gandy, another person who seemingly dedicated her entire life to the FBI. It is without question one of the most compelling moments on film this year to watch her and DiCaprio age over the course of numerous decades.

Clearly, I’ve spoken with numerous people who were not particularly impressed with J. Edgar. While I understand, the fact is that Eastwood presents his movie as if it was a stage play on Broadway. More than anything DiCaprio is given an unlimited range playing Hoover, embracing all of his strengths and weaknesses. Though the film may be hit or miss, he is flat-out magnificent.