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Biopic of J. Edgar Hoover told by Hoover as he recalls his career for a biography. Early in his career, Hoover fixated on Communists, anarchists and any other revolutionary taking action against the U.S. government. He slowly builds the agency's reputation, becoming the sole arbiter of who gets hired and fired. One of his hires is Clyde Tolson who is quickly promoted to Assistant Director and would be Hoover's confidant and companion for the rest of Hoover's life. Hoover's memories have him playing a greater role in the many high profile cases the FBI was involved in - the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the arrest of bank robbers like John Dillinger - and also show him to be quite adept at manipulating the various politicians he's worked with over his career, thanks in large part to his secret files. Written by
Clint Eastwood is famous for shooting the screenplays he directs almost verbatim, not making changes. Dustin Lance Black has admitted he didn't like that, arguing he loves to discuss the screenplay with the director and improving it together with suggestions. See more »
In one scene set in the 1930s the Federal income tax department is referred to as the IRS. The name "Internal Revenue Service" was only given to that department in the 1950s. Previously it was called the Bureau of Internal Revenue. See more »
J. Edgar Hoover:
Let me tell you something. The SCLC has direct Communist ties. Even great men can be corrupted, can't they? Communism is not a political party. It is a disease. It corrupts the soul, turning men, even the gentlest of men, into vicious evil tyrants.
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Any movie Clint Eastwood makes is certainly worth a look, and Leonardo DiCaprio is entertaining in anything he does. But this version of J. Edgar Hoover's story seems superficial, and lacking meat on its bones.
That has more to do with its form a theatrical film only two hours and 17 minutes long - relative to the length of the biography at its core. Hoover was such a complex man, and his career was so long, with so many chapters, that his story is probably better suited to a 4-to 6 hour HBO mini-series, where more of the details of his life, that this film with its short running time can only hint at, can be more completely told.
Dustin Lance Black, who wrote this film's screenplay (as well as that of Milk), is walking a very fine line here regarding Hoover's complex personality; it seems that he had a much more intricate story he wanted to tell, were it not for the confines of the feature film format. Here, broad brush strokes take the place of long chapters on Hoover's involvement with the Red Scares of the '20's and '50's, political blackmail, gambling, organized crime, and of course, homosexuality.
But if it had been made as a mini-series, it probably wouldn't have attracted Eastwood and DiCaprio, and consequently wouldn't have the high profile that this film does. That version of his story will have to wait for another time.
Eastwood chose to shoot this story in a washed-out color palette. The story jumps back in forth in time, and the closer the events of the film are to the end of Hoover's life, the more color Eastwood imbues into the scenes; the earliest moments in the time line are shown in a color scheme barely above monochrome. It's a subtle effect, but it helps the viewer keep track of where the scenes exist in Hoover's life.
That long time line necessitates that DiCaprio must be seen in various makeup schemes to convey the age of his character at any point in the story. His makeup is uniformly good; but the two other principal actors in the film, Armie Hammer as Hoover's longtime companion Clyde Tolson, and Naomi Watts as Hoover's secretary Helen Gandy, don't fare so well as their characters age. Obviously, the lion's share of the film's makeup budget was allotted to the star. Hammer, it must be said, gives a fine performance under all those old-age prosthetics. Christopher Shyer, who plays Richard Nixon in a brief scene, has the least-effective verisimilitude of anyone who has played the man in a motion picture.
But makeup alone does not a performance make. Di Caprio's ability to remain in character and "age" with him is remarkable, and transcends the work of his makeup artist. As he did with his portrayal of Howard Hughes in The Aviator, his skillful use of voice and body to stay true to his characterization of Hoover through the years is evident throughout.
One gets the feeling that much of this film was shot in front of a green screen, no surprise given the various eras of Washington that it depicts; but to a longtime moviegoer, there's a certain sadness that imparts to seeing that technique, once the province of the large-scale action film, used in serious dramas. There was probably no other way to do it in this day and age, but it just calls attention to itself in a way that gets in the way of one's immersion into the subject matter. Admittedly, that's my problem, not the film's.
So, is it worth a look? Sure. Best Picture nominee? In a field of ten, probably. Will Leo finally win an Oscar this time out? Well, look at it this way: Paul Newman gave his best performance in The Verdict, but the Academy finally honored him for The Color of Money. Leo probably should have won for playing Howard Hughes, but maybe he'll win for playing J. Edgar.
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