October 6, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 52°F


‘J. Edgar’: Hoover bio film lacks intrigue

As the first director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover discovered intimate details about everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy.

[Reviews type=”film” title=”‘J. Edgar'” rating=”★★½”]But in “J. Edgar,” director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black are less successful in delving into the personal life of such a notable figure. The biographical drama follows the ups and downs of Hoover’s career scandals, but doesn’t deliver.

Leonardo DiCaprio is predictably strong in the role of Hoover, playing him with equal parts self-loathing and self-importance. In an early scene when a young Hoover reminds one of the secretaries to call him Mr. Hoover, there is no hint of any underlying insecurity. The film explores his alleged homosexuality, a fact rebuffed by many historians. During the heart-wrenching scene in which Hoover attempts to come out to his mother (Judi Dench), there is no trace of the confidence Hoover shows in the office.

Even more impressive than DiCaprio is Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s confidant and romantic interest. Hammer shows remarkable range in expressing Tolson’s emotional turmoil, though the speculated relationship is historically less important than events such as the Lindbergh baby kidnapping.

Hammer plays Tolson from the 1920s to the 1970s, and there are times when his acting is so convincing it is easy to forget his youth. This is important considering the makeup used to age the actors comes off as unrealistic and over the top.

Much of the film takes place in flashbacks while Hoover recollects his life to FBI agents acting as ghostwriters for his memoir. This technique is effective in that Hoover is seen as an unreliable narrator.

Some flashbacks depict scenes that would likely have not been included in Hoover’s narration to the agents. To include flashback scenes of Hoover’s supposed homosexuality seems to imply it was also included in his retellings. The choppy sequencing and confusing use of flashback damages the realism of the film.

“J. Edgar” highlights Hoover’s greatest accomplishments and most negative attributes. DiCaprio’s performance evokes pity for Hoover’s insecurities, and disgust for his ruthless dedication to gathering information about those he considered his enemies. However, the film lacks a fresh look at its protagonist. His secrets, like his infamous personal files, remain unexplored.

“J. Edgar” was directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Dustin Lance Black.

2.5 out of 4 stars.