J. Edgar

WRITTEN BY: Dustin Lance Black
DIRECTED BY: Clint Eastwood
STARRING: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammie, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench
RATING: 4 stars

I'm still trying to figure out how Leonardo DiCaprio could possibly have been overlooked for an Academy Award nomination for his performance in J. Edgar. In fact, I'm trying to figure out why Naomi Watts and Armie Hammer weren't nominated either. J. Edgar is possibly the most underrated film of the year. There was a lot of hype surrounding the collaboration between DiCaprio and director Clint Eastwood but then it got mixed reviews and suddenly it was forgotten. It certainly isn't an obvious blockbuster. After all, it is a historical biopic about the founder of the FBI - a man who held far too much power for far too long. But this man remains a mystery and there's interest in that.

J. Edgar tells the story of John Edgar Hoover (DiCaprio), the man who was the face of law enforcement in the United States for 47 years (1924 – 1972) under eight presidents. Hoover dictates his memoirs to a series of young agents who type his words for him. As Hoover recalls his history with the FBI, the film shows flashbacks of his memories. It chronicles major stories that shook America at the time including the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, which Hoover used to expand his jurisdiction, and the capture of notorious outlaw John Dillinger, as well as Hoover's secret files on the rich and powerful, such as Eleanor Roosevelt's lesbian love affairs. Audiences are also given a sneak peek into the personal life of a fiercely private man who was feared and admired. It includes his relationships with the two most important women in his life – his domineering mother Annie (Judi Dench) and his secretary Helen Gandy (Watts) – as well as the man in his life, Clyde Tolson (Hammer) who inherited his fortune when he died.

Writer Dustin Lance Black, best known for Milk, has given us another compelling script. Since Hoover is such a mysterious figure in history, and most of his secret files were destroyed when he died, it is hard to know many things about him. What Black has done is shed some light on the man and provide audiences with enough information to make their own mind up about him. Hoover's sexuality was ambiguous and the film portrays him as almost asexual, if not possibly a repressed homosexual due to society and especially his mother who told him she would rather her son was dead than be a “daffodil”. One thing we do know is that he lacked hobbies, friends and partners, except perhaps for Tolson.

Eastwood has done a great job with the script, avoiding any sensationalism of the story. He doesn't try to avoid Hoover's sexuality, but he doesn't make it a big deal either. The film is as honest a depiction of Hoover as you could get considering we know so little about him. This is why DiCaprio's performance is so good. He has to be reserved and inward. He ages but his character is much the same through the years and DiCaprio portrays him very well. Watts is also impressive in her understated performance, while Hammer has the difficult role of playing a man equally as mysterious, though perhaps more obviously gay.

J. Edgar is an insightful film, although it is perhaps dry in areas that some expected to be more explosive. However, a more dramatic portrayal of Hoover would have been a disservice to his story because the fact is he is a mystery and any more dramatisation would only serve to be inaccurate. What Black, Eastwood and DiCaprio have done is shown us a complicated man in the best way they can while leaving viewers to draw their own conclusions. J. Edgar is a film that history fans will love.


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