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I have to admit that I didn't know much about the world of J Edgar Hoover so when I had the chance to watch the biopic made by Clint Eastwood last year on the plane coming back from Shanghai I was excited. I would love to say that I know a lot more about his life and work now but I don't. This is one of the worst biopics I have seen.
Eastwood's movie is like 10 movies all in one. It's a competent piece of work and the direction is okay but the film is very sombre. I was bombarded with lots of stuff but I didn't know the relevance of it all and it was delivered with no sense of urgency. The most important factor that cropped up all the time was the flirtation with Hoover and his side kick Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Dustin Lance Black's screenplay seems to be obsessed with playing out this flirtation and all I could think of was, when is it going to get physical and are we going to see any naughtiness.
I think if you are going to write a biopic you have to be thorough and not be lazy by showing a short summary of the man's life through him verbalising his memoir and declaring his legacy. The laziness is in the delivery of words, not all from the mouth of Hoover. Some snippets came from the pen of the screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, who is usually very good. I like the work he did on Harvey Milk's biopic. This way of dictating his life didn't work for me as I couldn't understand a lot of the phrasing and I was still stupefied by the mystery of the man at the end of the film.
The historical context that is shown is very dramatic like the early representation of the bombings by anarchists in 1919 and the Palmer raids that followed. The raid in New York on the Russian People's House where they found explosives and materials to make bombs, tells us that perhaps there was a real foundation for the so called Red Scare. The scene in a movie theatre where a piece of footage shows Hoover being booed is interesting, it is cut short, the projectionist suddenly flips to a Jimmy Cagney film and we hear cheers and loud applause. This exemplifies the folk-hero status that gangland characters enjoyed in those days, and offers some views on Hoover's interest in promoting the figure of the valiant G-man in comics and films.
The film runs for 137 minutes and you could say it hits all the right places, we see all the things we expect to see. Hoover's mother, Anne Marie dominates the film with her bossy personality and affectionate, cloying ways. Judi Dench did well in this role, I usually find her annoying but she gave me the spooks and at times I felt suffocated as he must have done. The part of the film where she exudes hate and stipulates that she would rather have a dead son than a "daffodil" (another word for effeminate) is really quite depressing.
The Lindbergh kidnapping spins out a bit too long. The Kansas City massacre, the killing of JFK and Hoover's feud against Martin Luther King Jr. are all reported. It was nice to see Shirley Temple and Ginger Rodgers but what they were doing there I have no idea as very little is mentioned about these appearances.
We see Hoover as the great thinker, working hard to introduce investigative procedure into the contemporary world, pioneering forensic techniques and equipment that are taken for granted these days, such as the FBI's federal fingerprint library. We see him as the tyrant, making spiteful judgments about agents' dress sense and dismissing those who wind him up. We see him beyond control and creating havoc, getting involved in illegal surveillance when he wanted to, accumulating private files on the personal lives of well-known and not-so-famous Americans, and even condescending to blackmail to get what he wanted.
I felt that Eastwood's direction never managed to show any closeness to any of the people or situations affected by Hoover's personality and ways. A lot of people were affected by him, some gained a lot and others were destroyed but you wouldn't know that from the film because you never feel their pain or see their happiness. Hoover is too full of himself and wrapped up with Tolson and his doting mother that he is unable to tell us what the future is going to be like, he is unable to answer important questions from the people who have been drastically affected by his influence.
We all know Leonardo DiCaprio is a well-known film star but can he actually act? Playing out the role of Hoover he takes on a strange accent and we see him at certain stages with varying degrees of make-up to make him look older. This didn't work, I never saw Caprio's face as a face belonging to the end of the 19th century, making 21 before World War I and turning really old before the actor was actually born. There was nothing wrong with the application of make-up, his acting isn't realistic enough. He acts and speaks like a child.
DiCaprio can don the pin stripe suit and fedora hat but he still looks very young and never looks like Hoover did in his thirties. From photographs I have seen of Hoover he looked old in his 20s but this may not be Leonardo's fault as actors today age a lot differently than the Hollywood stars of old. Stars like James Mason, Henry Fonda and Gregory Peck always looked old and lined even when they were in their mid-twenties.
Finally, J. Edgar endeavours to draw a conclusion as he drones out these words: "Love is the greatest force on earth," "more enduring than hate." I thought it very odd to conclude with these statements as I didn't think the film investigated these sentiments that much. I guess the film is not comparing the love he has of his mother and Tolson to the hate he has for Roosevelt, King and anyone else who rubbed him up the wrong way politically.
The meaning of the movie, as I see it, is all about how the love between two men can survive more than the hate that contends such love, specifically, the hate of a mother who would rather see her son dead than be effeminate. What a shallow epilogue to conclude the story of a life as complicated, provocative, and momentous as that of J. Edgar Hoover.
There you go, I really struggled to enjoy this film, in fact it was really depressing and I am no wiser about the the man now. I found the film difficult to watch, it was jumbled and a film that didn't' seem to have much light in the screenplay or the framing. I usually like Clint Eastwood and I don't mind Leonardo but the direction was chaotic from start to finish and Di Caprio's personality and tonal quality wasn't strong enough to take on this role.
J Edgar has a certificate of 13, I agree with this. There isn't anything alarming in the film, a few swear words, a tape of sexual noises and a couple of obscenities. Scenes of violence inclue bombings, beatings, use of guns and fights. There are also scenes of Hoover being injected with some drug that is never mentioned but seems to boost his energy levels.
I am awarding the film 2 stars and I can't recommend it. Like I said, I watched the film on the plane, I wouldn't consider watching it again as it did my head in but I would still like to see a good biopic of John Edgar Hoover.
I have never written a film review before, so here goes! My other half and I went to the cinema yesterday. I am not a big fan of going unless its something I really want to watch (like Harry Potter!). I wanted to see War Horse, but unfortunately hubby refused! We ended up going to see J Edgar.
J Edgar is the story of John Edgar Hoover, the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Born in 1895, he was only 29 when he became the sixth Director of the Bureau of Investigation. He was then instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained as Director until his death in 1972. During that time he worked with six different presidents, many of whom started with the intention of firing him when they started their term.
The film is directed by Clint Eastwood, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Hoover; Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy, his secretary for 54 years; Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson, his right hand man; and Judi Dench as Hoover's mother.
I have very limited knowledge on American history. Had I known we were going to watch the film I probably would have done some prior research, I have obviously heard of him before, but had no idea what he had done.
The film was a great portrayal of how the FBI was formed. I found it incredibly interesting to see how the first crime laboratory started as a one man unit in 1932 and doubled as a smoking lounge and is now one of the largest crime laboratories in the world.
For a story I have no knowledge of the film kept me interested throughout and I definitely felt that I learnt something whilst there. I am now keen to find out more, especially about Hoovers controversial files which he supposedly kept. These were confidential and only Hoover and Gandy had access to the information within them and apparently the knowledge within them helps to understand how Hoover kept his place for so long.
I found DiCaprio fantastic as the controversial Hoover. The scenes swap between Hoover as a young man starting out and seeing his rise to becoming Director of the FBI and his final years with him as an old man, with Gandy and Tolson with him throughout. DiCaprio, Hammer and Watts are great in both roles that they play. The makeup is great and difference in things such as talking and walking when they are older all adds to the scenes. There is still so much unknown about Hoover's life which is explored in the film without coming to an overall opinion of it. It is clear that Hoover had a very strong relationship with his mother, and he is left devastated when she dies. I felt sorry for Hoover who seems to be unable to express himself, is unsure what he wants sexually and finds it incredibly difficult to trust anyone bar his mother, Gandy and Tolson.
I did enjoy the film, although I am not sure it is one that I would want to watch again. My husband is an avid film watcher and can watch films (such as Batman) hundreds of times without tiring of them, and he was of the same opinion.
The film is classified 15, and has a running time of 137 minutes. Please let me know if you would like any further information. Available on Amazon for £5 including delivery.
Thanks for reading