Director: Clint Eastwood
Written by: Dustin Lance Black
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench, Naomi Watts
J. Edgar Hoover led one fascinating life. He founded the FBI in 1935 and ran it until he died in 1972. He also invented the card catalog system in the Library of Congress. In the new movie directed by Clint Eastwood, most of Hoover's adult life has been covered. What could have been a gritty crime movie following his run of the FBI, Black and Eastwood focus on Hoover's main relationships in his life. They include his lover Clyde Tolson (Hammer), his mom (Dench), and his secretary Helen Grandy (Watts). The mother-son relationship is told with an all-too-close approach reminding me of a Norman Bates type of relationship. One of the biggest mysteries of his life involved his relationship with Tolson. It is rumored that they were in a romantic relationship. Due to the time period, Hoover would never have come out or admit to being gay. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a romance movie. There is a side story involving the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, plus a look into his involvement with many of the presidents.
Say what you will about Leonardo DiCaprio. He definitely has a reputation and image associated with him. I, however, have been a fan of his since "Growing Pains". I think he's a terrific actor at the top of his game. He may only star in movies centered on his character, but he always brings his A-game. He fully embodies his characters using his voice, mind, and body. J.Edgar Hoover might be one of his best performances. In what could have been an over-the-top performance for an over-the-top man, he showed quite a bit of restraint compared to some of his other movies. Armie Hammer proves he's not a one-hit wonder by giving a beautiful version of Clyde Tolson. DiCaprio, Hammer, and Watts do a convincing job of aging their characters as well.
Black's screenplay covers nearly fifty years of Hoover's life from the Palmer Raids through his death. Most of it is told as flashbacks as an older Hoover is recollecting his life while writing a memoir. With a running time of almost two and a half hours, the pace of the movie can be fairly slow at times. I tend to be forgiving of slow movies if I find the material interesting. J.Edgar Hoover led a fascinating life of which I really did not know much about. I give Eastwod a lot of credit for tackling the gay issues involved with Hoover. He easily could have left it out and focused on just his involvement with the FBI.
RATING: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5)