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moviemanMA15 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
In Clint Eastwood's latest biopic J. Edgar, we delve into the personal life of one of the most powerful and enigmatic figures of the 20th century. We are shown pieces of a man who was scared, confused, and extremely intelligent. He knew how to cater to the media, but his personal life was shrouded in secrecy. It could be argued that J. Edgar himself wasn't quite sure of who he was.

Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Hoover. We see him evolve from a young upstart in the US Justice Department to the head of the FBI. DiCaprio portrays a man of man faults, though not entirely through his own doing. He overcame a speech impediment, grew up virtually without a father, and had difficulty expressing himself socially and sexually. Through DiCaprio's performance, we see just that, a man with a head on his shoulders, only confiding in those few people he trusted.

In his inner circle was Helen Gandy (Naoimi Watts), his personal secretary and keeper of Hoover's private files. Her commitment to Hoover knew no bounds. His right hand man, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), was, on paper, not the right person to become Hoover's 2nd in command, but Hoover saw something in Tolson that made him feel comfortable. From what we see on film, Tolson was more than a friend, more than a partner. He had no title for Hoover. He was invaluable.

The center of Hoover's world, however, was his mother Annie (Judi Dench). A stern yet loving woman, she knew what Hoover needed to be successful. Her approval meant so much to him, and the thought of letting her down was unfathomable. That would wreak havoc on his private life throughout his life.

Hoover's appointment as head of the FBI would last for nearly half a decade. In that time he saw our country through several wars, the "red scare," gangsters, and a presidential assassination. To compile his ever major decision would make for a great documentary series, but to compress it all into a movie under 2 1/2 hours, Eastwood utilizes recent Oscar winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk) to pen the script. What Black does is paint a picture of Hoover not as the head of the FBI, but as a man whose image was so out of whack that he himself had trouble distinguishing fact from fiction.

The film constructed in a way that we are told the story of Hoover's life through Hoover's own words, not from a general point of view. What makes this so effective is that we aren't sure of how certain events actually transpired, making the story, and in effect history, somewhat clouded, much like the image of Hoover himself.

This image of Hoover has been dissected and speculated for years. Was he a homosexual? What secrets did he take to the grave? Was he involved in any conspiracies? These questions are touched upon, but never fully answered. What we are left with is a portrait of a man left unfinished, much like the painting of Washington we see several times throughout the film. Like the painting, Hoover is a man incomplete. That painting is a reminder to him that even though he is incomplete he can still make a difference.

Some of the strengths of the film are also its weaknesses. The story itself if fascinating, but it tends to drag on. It reminded me of The Good Shepherd. A really good story with great characters based on true events, just nothing extraordinary. The acting too is well done but, for me at least, I had a hard time not seeing Leonardo DiCaprio as Hoover, especially with the makeup. Part of it, especially with DiCaprio, is his voice. He has such a unique way of speaking and he has trouble disguising it. His character also reminded me of his performance in The Aviator.

The acting on the whole, especially Hammer and Dench (I expect nods for both and DiCaprio as well), is well above average. Eastwood always manages to extract prime performances from his actors, including when he is acting. Eastwood also continues his work behind the scenes by composing the score, his seventh feature length scoring composition. Like his other composition, there's a heavy, moody, jazzy undertone. He doesn't overpower us with large orchestral compositions. Instead he utilizes strings, piano, and a few horns to accent the images.
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What is Truth?
ReinaMissy25 November 2011
The infamous words spoken by Pilate to Jesus of Nazareth come to mind when one ponders the life of John Edgar Hoover. Was he a genius or a tyrant? A patriot or a dictator? A cross dresser or an uptight man with no sex life? Nobody knows for certain, and director Clint Eastwood does not offer a definitive answer to any of these questions, which is exactly as it should be. Life is rarely cut-and-dried, but moviegoers seem to have forgotten that fact in the face of media that state speculation as fact on a regular basis.

I find it not only surprising, but distressing, that a major criticism from those critics who panned the film is the lack of closure on Hoover's private life. Unless they are truly obtuse, they must realize that no film could possibly do such a thing, since his files were destroyed at his own bidding. All is speculation, and a fine speculation it is. Leonardo DiCaprio is superb (as usual) in the title role, never revealing more cards then he chooses to at any given moment. He receives fine support from Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson, Hoover's Second in Command/Rumored Lover, and Naomi Watts as his endlessly loyal private secretary Helen Gandy. At a time when "red fever" ran high, Hoover's relentlessly tightening control on government investigations is shown in flashbacks that only underscore how supreme power can corrupt even the noblest of intentions.

In the end, the film answers none of the questions that seem so important to the very critics that disliked it, but in my humble opinion, a well made film is one that inspires debate or discussion rather than simply hand down a definitive 'this is the way it was' with an imperious gavel. With "J Edgar", Eastwood and his cast have succeeded well.
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Ugly Film About An Ugly Man
claudiaeilcinema24 November 2011
What a shocking disappointment. A director of Eastwood's caliber, an actor of DiCaprio reputation, giving us this travesty - no pun intended - of a biopic. Claude Rains and Madamr Constantine in "Notorious" someone made that comparison - I wish it had been that entertaining. This one is dull, dull, dull. Not a real insight into the man or, maybe more importantly, about the times of the man. Little, meaningless sketches about enormous events. I wonder what was the intention behind this venture. The "old" make-up was worthy of a B picture of the 50's. Jaw dropping really. I've always sensed that Eastwood, the director, left the actors to their own devices and, unless the devices belong to Gene Hackman or Sean Penn, the performance a rather poor. Here DiCaprio "recites" his lines with grit but without conviction. I couldn't wait for the film to be over and I waited and waited and waited.
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Worth a look, but the wrong medium for this story
pemolloy13 November 2011
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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Solid Weight
ferguson-613 November 2011
Greetings again from the darkness. The best place to start with this one is by saying what it isn't. It is not a documentary. It is not a very detailed history lesson. It is not the best biography of the man. It is not a behind-the-scenes of the FBI. What it is ... another piece of quality filmmaking from Clint Eastwood. It's an overview of J. Edgar Hoover and his nearly 50 years of civil service under 8 U.S. Presidents.

The screenplay is from Dustin Lance Black, who also wrote the script for Milk, based on the story of Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn). Clearly, Eastwood and Black had no interest in setting forth an historical drama that couldn't possibly be told within a two hour film structure. No, this is more of a fat-free character study that hits only a few of the highlights from an enigmatic man's fascinating career. With so few available details about Hoover's personal life, some speculation is required ... but Eastwood walks a tightrope so as to make neither a statement nor mockery.

Therein lies the only problem with the film. While hypnotic to watch, we are left with an empty feeling when it's over. How can that be? This man built the foundation of the FBI. He instigated the fingerprint system. He armed the secret police. His agency tracked down notorious gangsters. He led an anti-communist movement. He was in the middle of the investigation for the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. He supposedly kept secret files on most politicians and celebrities. He viewed the security of Americans as his responsibility. He was smack dab in the middle of almost 50 years of American history ... all while being a power-hungry, paranoid mama's boy who may have been, in her words, a daffodil.

An elderly Hoover's own words tell his story as he dictates his memoirs. We are told that his memories of these stories are blurred and he takes a few liberties to say the least. He longed to be the comic book hero like his own G-Men. He longed to be recognized for his contributions, even to the point of desiring a level of celebrity. In his mind, he was the face of national security and the hero cuffing many outlaws. In reality, he was also the black-mailing schemer who so frightened Presidents with his secret files, that all 8 of them backed off firing him. He could be viewed as the ultimate survivor in a town where few careers last so long and cross party lines.

The film picks up in 1919 when Hoover is a youngster making a name for himself as an all-work, no play type. That reputation stuck with him until the end. When he was first promoted, he hired Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts)to be his secretary. In one of the most remarkable hires of all time, she sticks with him until his death in 1972. Staunchly loyal to Hoover and totally dedicated to her job, Ms. Gandy helped Hoover with decisions and processes throughout. The other member of his inner circle was Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Tolson was Hoover's right-hand man at the bureau, his trusted adviser, his daily lunch partner, and speculation never ceased on their personal ties.

Judi Dench plays Annie Hoover, J Edgar's controlling mother, who he lived with until her death. She was also his adviser, supporter and probably a factor in his stunted social skills. We also get glimpses of how he dealt with Robert Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan) and his overall lack of respect for John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Richard Nixon. The Lindbergh case plays a key role because Hoover used it to gain more power for his bureau and increase funding for weapons, forensic labs and resources.

As for Leonardo DiCaprio, it's difficult to explain just how outstanding his performance is. It could have been a caricature, but instead he affords Hoover the respect his place in history demands. The 50 years of aging through make-up can be startling, especially since the time lines are mixed up throughout. His speech pattern mimics Hoover's, as does the growing waist line. There are some Citizen Kane elements at work in how the story is told and how it's filmed, but Eastwood wouldn't shy away from such comparisons.

If you want real details on Hoover, there are some very in-depth biographies out there. The number of documentaries and history books for this era are limitless. What Eastwood delivers here is an introduction to J Edgar Hoover. It is interesting enough to watch, and Leonardo's performance is a must-see, but the film lacks the depth warranted by the full story.
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Great but not without its flaws
qq1076 November 2011
Just got back from a screening in Vancouver~ Thanks to Clint Eastwood, it was almost free (only one dollar per ticket) I will try to keep my review spoiler-free~

Personally, I thought it was a great film. Not exceptional in anyway, but still great. The tone reminds me a bit of Changeling. Makes sense since the stories are from the same period. I have to say, with Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio and Dustin Lance Black all on board, I was kind of expecting something a bit more than this.

I thought the weakest link was the script. It was interesting, but flawed. Also, the story was not very intriguing. Having watched Milk (also written by Black) and really liked how the story unfolded, I was expecting a great story about how J. Edgar Hoover rose to power and how he gradually transformed into the monster he became in the end. But instead, the story was told by shifting back and forth in time countless times, which at some point made me feel emotionally detached from the story and the characters. The bad bad makeup (I guess we can all agree on that~) was also very distracting. The elderly characters looked like wax figures to me.

That said, I really LOVED Eastwood's score. It was moving and really fit the mood of the film. His direction and camera-work were masterful as always. Leo was very convincing as J. Edgar, although I keep on seeing bits and pieces of Howard Hughes in his performance. Judi Dench and Naomi Watts were both great, however the same thing can not be said about Armie Hammer. I thought he was much better in The Social Network. There were a few good moments between him and Leo, but his performance as the elderly Clyde Tolson was darn right awful. I blame the horrible makeup.

As for the Oscars, this film will get a few nominations, but I doubt that it would become a strong contender. Though Leo's performance was not without its flaws, I thought it was more than enough to secure his leading actor nomination. Nods for best art direction, best cinematography and best score are also quite possible.

This film had the potential to become a masterpiece, but fell short of my expectations mainly due to the uneven script. While far from being one of his best, it is nevertheless a welcome addition to Eastwood's portfolio.

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Edgar and Clyde
littlemartinarocena22 November 2011
Snipets of history and then a tabloid romance that, in its day, was made of rumor and innuendo. A psychotic, paranoid schizophrenic, as I see it, head of the most powerful Federal Bureau Of Investigation, corrupted by his own power and his obsession with secrecy is a character worthy of Peter Lorre but in this new outing of the prolific Clint Eastwood, J Edgar Hoover is Leonardo DiCaprio! I love both DiCaprio and Eastwood but not in this. I love DiCaprio for Gilbert Grape and Eastwood for The Outlaw Josey Wales and Unforgiven. Here they are both out of their depths. Long, boring film with terrible aging make-up and no real center. The most unexpected aspect was the time dedicated to the romance between J Edgar and Clyde Tolson. It humanized the man without revealing him. That's almost cheating.
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I never imagined I would see a Clint Eastwood film where I would look at my watch before the first hour was even up, but alas the day has come
TheUnknown837-128 November 2011
It can happen to the best of us. Spielberg, Scorsese, Hitchcock, and even Clint Eastwood himself are capable of making an instantly-dismissible picture. Sometimes, it seems, a director will find himself in a project without much of a passion for it and looking at the final product, it's kind of hard to see his signature on the screen. That is the case with Mr. Eastwood's biopic on the life of J. Edgar Hoover. The movie, "J. Edgar", is everything I did not expect from Mr. Eastwood considering the deep, thought-provocative and artistic power of his last movie "Hereafter" as well as the many films that he made beforehand. Slow, pretentious, and middling.

Many actors have played the infamous FBI founder over the years (once by Hoover himself, in the 1959 James Stewart movie "The FBI Story"). This time, the role goes to Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately, it seems, his feelings about the movie seemed to be identical to Mr. Eastwood's, as he merely ham-acts throughout the entirety of the movie. The only thing differentiating his performance from scene-to-scene depends on how much phony make-up has been slapped on his face. It's sort of like a "Citizen Kane" portrait of a real-life figure, starting around the time of the man's death and whisking back and forth between the past and the present. Except whereas that great Orson Welles film from seventy years ago did it with precision and aesthetic greatness, the narrative of "J. Edgar" takes such vast leaps that it frequently falls flat on its face.

The screenplay was written by Dustin Lance Black, who won the Oscar for Best Screenplay for "Milk." Once again, he more or less writes this story more as a vessel for a homosexual romance and rights message. And it is here that he strikes his intended gold. Hoover's lover, his right-hand man Clyde Tolson, is played with immense passion by Armie Hammer. And it is the scenes between Mr. Hammer and Mr. DiCaprio that work. A particularly great scene involves the two secret lovers sharing a dinner table with some flirtatious Hollywood starlets and nervously trying to shake off the ladies' sexual advances without giving themselves away. Also fascinating and frightful is a confrontation about homosexuality between Mr. DiCaprio and Judi Dench as Hoover's mother.

So it is in this soulful subplot that Mr. Black's screenplay works, but when he tries to form a narrative arc about the lifetime of J. Edgar Hoover and bounce across decades in a coherent manner, it starts to struggle. Furthermore, apart from the love subplot, there is no chemistry between the characters. Naomi Watts, as Hoover's secretary, is given such insignificant things to do that she may as well have been an extra.

Earlier I mentioned that a passionless project even by a great director, will appear to lose its creators' signature and that is no more evident than in here. Mr. Eastwood's directing, though hardly bad, is rather dull with too many long shots and ponderous slow zooms. And while Leonardo DiCaprio was an inspired choice to play J. Edgar Hoover, he does it almost playfully, without much soul or conviction. Most embarrassing of all is the forced accent with which he enunciates the dialogue. Capped with some truly horrific make-up, when playing the elderly Hoover, the actor appears to be giving a comic stand-up performance at a nightclub. Reputedly, Mr. DiCaprio spent five hours every morning having the prosthetics applied to his face when playing the older version of the character. All I can say is that they should have spent at least six, for the make-up looks like exactly what it is. And the stuff put on Mr. Hammer for his old-guy moments makes him look like he belongs in a 30s Universal horror film.

Just as frightful as the makeup is the hack-job cinematography by Tom Stern. Yes, the same Tom Stern who has lit beautiful images for many of Clint Eastwood's earlier films, including "Changeling" for which he deservedly earned an Academy Award nomination. Mr. Stern's specialty seems to be in low-key lighting. Last year, he did a fabulous job catching the mood of "Hereafter" with clever use of shadows and silhouetting lights. But here, he goes overboard. The shadows in "J. Edgar" are so amateurish and monstrous that (I kid you not) the actors sometime disappear in them. If there is a symbolic purpose behind this, I cannot think of it. And other times, the lights are too soft. Close-ups of characters make them appear to be covered with flour and worst of all is when the camera tracks into a dark room and auto-adjusts to the new light...much like a home-video camera.

I never imagined I would see a Clint Eastwood film where I would look at my watch impatiently before the first hour was even up, but alas the day has come. "J. Edgar" is a dimwitted, passionless project that brings almost nothing to our previous knowledge about the formation of the FBI and the men who made it all possible. Only a couple of sharp, provocative moments from Dustin Lance Black's screenplay really stand out. Now Clint Eastwood has made five or six masterpieces during his forty-year career as a director and about twice as many great films, so despite my disappointment, I am prepared to allow this one to fade from my memory.

Not that that would be very hard. If J. Edgar Hoover had a file cabinet labeled 'Instantly Forgettable,' that is where this film would have gone.
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Eastwood's Most Under-appreciated Film
salesgab18 May 2012
Clint Eastwood's boldness and creativity paid off in this excellent portrayal of J. Edgar Hoover's life. A project like that is not pulled off by just anyone, and the fact that a film like that was even made shows the importance of Clint Eastwood. His direction was marvelous, by the way, showing without fear the dark side of the FBI director, but also showing all the good aspects of this very interesting subject. Leonardo DiCaprio is another great reason to watch the film, in one of the most moving performances in his career. His portrayal of a Hoover both ruthless and emotionally vulnerable was superb, and he has excelled once again in studying the character. The make up must also be praised for allowing DiCaprio to portrayal Hoover in many different stages of his life. J. Edgar, if not Clint's best work, is a very interesting and moving film, and the fact that it is so under-appreciated is a mystery to me.
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james184416 November 2011
Lets not beat around the bush. This film takes the viewer down a sad and depressing road of poor make-up, dry and boring scenes not to mention a story of the life of a man that was tied to his mother's apron strings.

I can't understand why Eastwood decided to produce this dreary story. Hoover was a flawed man but with one key redeeming quality...He wanted to reconstruct the F.B.I. and rebuild it into a polished law enforcement machine that would level the playing field of combating crime at a time when it was Dodge City run-a-muck.

As for Dicaprio, I think that he was a mistake to play Hoover. It just doesn't work. Hoover was ruthless and self-absorbed. Hoover needed to be portrayed by someone like Jack Nickleson or at least similar.
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emacklin-689-48993913 November 2011
Why are there are these horrible reviews? I just saw this movie yesterday and it was utterly fantastic. I'm not the only one that thinks so. The theater was packed with people, mainly from adult to elderly but it was packed non the less. Everyone was clapping at the end of the movie.

"J. Edger" tells the story of how the man J. Edger Hoover came to power, and goes into his personal life. Clint Eastwood did a wonderful job at bring this amazing story to life, and his so score was beautiful too. Leonardo DiCabrio was unbelievable. I couldn't believe how fantastic he was. It was one of the best performances I personally have ever seen. If he dose not win an Oscar for this, it would be just terrible. Everyone else was great too, everyone. And guess what people, the makeup was FANTASTIC!

Why people are bashing this movie so much is beyond me. It's not for everyone I'll admit. It's for people with a brain who want to see a piece of art instead of some stupid film like the Immortals.
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Good film
patty-10712 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I enjoyed this film, thought it was well documented and gave me historical references I didn't know about. Well done Clint Eastwood! The acting was fabulous too. Gave me new respect for DiCaprio...... I found it amazing his secretary would have stayed with him for so long; maybe he did have some charisma?

I wasn't expecting to enjoy the film but did. The costumes were good and the sets were nice to look at too. It was just about the right length of film also, maybe verging on the edge of being a bit too long but it was OK. I am eager to see any Clint Eastwood film as I think he puts a lot of thought and energy in his films.
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Another one of "how-a-movie-should-be-made" by Mr. Eastwood
Maleplatypus24 February 2012
I'm one of those viewers who can not comprehend bad reviews from below. This is an almost perfect movie: excellent performances by the cast, traditional discrete direction by Mr. Eastwood (also his ever fantastic music score), emotions, well written script... You name it. Let's clear out one thing: This is NOT primarily a biographic movie but a story of love and devotion. And that's why Mr. Eastwood excels again. If you want a biopic, you can give it to anyone, but if you want an emotional story perfectly told, you give it to Mr. Eastwood. He is an artist par excellence.

Highly recommended to anyone who, after the abundance of Hollywood movie junk, wants to see finally a very very good movie.
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Major Disappointment - I'll Keep It Short
rcreekmur12 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
No one was more important to the evolution of law enforcement in the United States in the first half of the 20th Century than J. Edgar Hoover. The history and politics of the era, the power Hoover held over presidents and senators, and the intensity with which he built the FBI from scratch - all of this would make a great movie. Instead Eastwood chose to make a film about a tortured closet homosexual with a strange mommy fixation. I guess he figured the American public would respond more to a soap opera than an intelligent historical drama. The scene in which Hoover and Tolson have their hotel-room lovers' spat is completely laughable. The death of Hoover's mother is pathetic. And the makeup and acting is so over-the-top through the majority of this film, that I had a hard time keeping my eyes from rolling out of my head.

Certainly not worth paying to see in a theater. Not worth the cost of a rental later on either.
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A True Life Historical Figure
Lechuguilla24 April 2013
The best that can be said for this film is that it got made. The subject matter, about the life of a dreadfully dull and stodgy old bureaucrat from a bygone era, is not in line with Hollywood's usual mass-produced action films aimed at brash young boys. I credit Director Eastwood and lead actor Leonardo Di Caprio with enough star power to convince the money-men to fund this project. And it turned a profit.

But there are plenty of problems with "J. Edgar", not the least of which is a script that flips back and forth too much between the 1960s and earlier decades in Hoover's life. A lot of time is wasted on the gangster era of the 1920 and 30s, possibly because Di Caprio is so youthful looking, he fits a younger image of Hoover, in contrast to an aging old man in the 60s. Almost nothing is included about the JFK assassination and follow-up investigation despite the fact that Hoover played a central role in marketing the "lone-gunman" theory.

Throughout, Hoover comes across as bureaucratic, rigid, moralistic, self-righteous, incapable of changing with the times, dishonest, and a hypocrite. Absent from the film are any virtuous qualities he may have had.

As Hoover, Leonardo Di Caprio gives a better performance than I would have predicted. But the script does Di Caprio no favors. The dialogue for Hoover consists largely of platitudes and pronouncements. Hoover doesn't talk with people so much as make little speeches to them. And Di Caprio's monotone voice exaggerates this talking down to others effect.

Hoover demanded loyalty from his staff. As his private secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) is an interesting study in forced loyalty. Ditto Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), as Hoover's sidekick.

Cinematography is quite dark. Colors are heavily muted, almost monochromatic. Costumes and prod design are convincing across five decades. But makeup for an older Clyde Tolson is horrid; his face looks like a wax figure that's about to melt.

"J. Edgar" could have been much better, had the script focused more on the sixties and shown Hoover's working relationship to the Kennedy's and Lyndon Johnson. And though I appreciate Di Caprio's efforts to get the film made, a different actor might have been more convincing in the role of Hoover. Still, the film is a reasonably good effort. It's worth watching once, if for no other reason than because it's a true story about a real-life historical figure.
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J Edgar (2011) an excellent biopic
rsmall18068 May 2012
J Edgar (2011) B+ Leonardo DiCaprio excels in this extraordinary 2¼ hour biopic of the 48 year career of J. Edgar Hoover who developed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). DiCaprio's convincing acting and appearance, supported by Naomi Watts, as his secretary and other good actors held my attention throughout.

Make-up artists in this film deserve high praise.

Watching this biopic is an easy way to be informed and be entertained at the same time.

Screenwriters and directors characterize Hoover's unusual personality, complex sexuality and close relationship to his mother (Judy Dench) and his lover Clyde Tolson. This males a compelling, and I believe accurate, on-screen interpretation of this unusual man who had a strong affect on this country for almost fifty years.

Leonardo DiCaprio's superb acting makes this biopic believable. I know something about Hoover and this time in our history. This movie adds to my understanding.

The tragic Lindberg child murder case was one of the most highly publicized crimes of the 20th century. This and the other segments make J Edgar several movies in one.

May 2012.
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skullislandsurferdotcom11 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Never has a movie's trailer been so deceiving, teasing an epic biographical drama about the rise and fall of a powerful man with secrets that ruined him. But there's no rise to be any fall… or much of anything else for that matter. Leonardo DiCaprio, playing J. Edgar Hoover, bounces from boring one scene (and/or time period) to the next… displaying no qualities of a person who, although flawed and now considered a joke, did make an impact. His innovations in fingerprinting, and the climb from a snoopy young agent to the head of the F.B.I., are treated as importantly as a midnight snack. And the only revelations are that he loved his mother and was a closeted homosexual, but even these stories play out like bad soaps. While segments following taut historical situations, like the Lindbergh kidnapping, build no suspense whatsoever – leading only to Hoover screwing up the situation: time and time again. Most of the side-characters, from biographers to politicians to fellow agents to his closest friends, are used merely as counterpoint-mouthpieces: questioning everything Hoover says just in case the audience can't figure out each lie on their own. DiCaprio is far better here than THE AVIATOR, where he was completely miscast playing a grownup. With his narrowed eyes fervently seeking purpose, he tries very hard, even in the fake looking old man makeup… but with a script so lacking of any personal or historical significance, it feels like he's treading water. But the worst crime, exceeding the fact most of the dialog occurs between two people who'd never (later on) revealed the conversations, is it's downright boring. Director Clint Eastwood should either retire or go back to making action movies, because this clunker had no pulse whatsoever.
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He Had the Power
Chris_Pandolfi10 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Leonardo DiCaprio has proved himself a masterful actor, but his performance in Clint Eastwood's "J. Edgar" is sure to put him on the same shelf as Sean Penn, Meryl Streep, Viggo Mortensen, Johnny Depp, and Christian Bale – actors who inhabit their roles so convincingly that the real person essentially disappears. As J. Edgar Hoover, who became the head of the FBI in 1924 and remained so until his death in 1972, DiCaprio thoroughly captures the look, the mannerisms, the voice, and the personality. We see a man who took his public image as seriously as his job, as made abundantly clear by a scene late in the film, in which key events in his life are disputed. It's actually rather cleverly handled. It's a matter of perception; what others see in you may not be as interesting as how you see yourself.

The film is structured as a meandering narrative, freely shifting back and forth between Hoover's early days at the FBI and the final years of his life, at which point various typists transcribe an autobiography he's dictating. He recounts the major cases he personally oversaw, including the Palmer Raids, the kidnapping and death of Charles Lindbergh's baby boy, and the gangster wars of the early 1930s. To say he "personally oversaw" is not to suggest he acted alone or was even physically present. That didn't stop him from taking most of the credit. When Melvin Purvis, one of the most effective and respected agents of his time, became a media sensation after successfully tracking down criminals such as Baby Face Nelson and John Dillinger, Hoover's response was to demote him. He would, in fact, frequently fire or reassign agents he considered objectionable.

I suspect most audiences will go into this movie with preconceived notions about Hoover's personal life, most notably that he may have been a transvestite and a closeted homosexual. Both are unsubstantiated rumors, although there is strong evidence supporting the latter, not the least of which is his lifelong friendship with FBI associate director Clyde Tolson. Apart from their professional relationship, they would often dine together, attend social events, and go vacationing. Tolson would go on to inherit Hoover's estate, receive the American flag draped over his coffin, and ultimately be buried in the same cemetery only a few yards away. It cannot be denied that Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black are making a case for this aspect of Hoover's life. But this is not a message film about forbidden love; it's a portrait of a man who defined himself solely by his reputation.

True enough, it was built and maintained in large part by gathering secret files on the alleged sex lives of prominent public figures, including Eleanor Roosevelt. It's widely speculated that he did this only for the purposes of blackmail, which would explain how he was able to stay in power for nearly fifty years (and why FBI directors have since been limited to ten-year terms). Publicly, he was so militantly anti-gay that he went as far as to track down and threaten anyone who questioned his sexuality. There's no telling how he felt privately, although the film makes some compelling arguments. Consider a scene in which he's alone in a hotel room with Tolson (Armie Hammer) and broaches the subject of proposing to actress Dorothy Lamour (who in real life was reported to have had an affair with Hoover). How does this fit with the image of a lifelong bachelor who surrounded himself with good-looking people, had an eye for fashion, and lived with his mother until the day she died?

His mother, Annie (Judi Dench), matronly and domineering, says that she would rather her son be dead than a "daffodil," like one of Hoover's old schoolmates. We inevitably have this scene in mind after her death, at which point Hoover tearfully tries on one of her dresses. By my understanding of this scene, he was not trying to emulate the opposite sex; rather, it was an emotional last-ditch effort to recapture his closeness with his mother. This isn't creepy so much as it is sad and desperate. In that moment, we pity him.

The other woman in his life was Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), who, after a few unconventional dates and an awkward marriage proposal, would go on to become his permanent personal secretary. He entrusted her with his secret files, the contents of which remain largely unknown. No real effort is made to speculate on all the information he gathered, which is fine because this isn't really what "J. Edgar" is about. It's a well-researched period drama, complete with accurate costumes, convincing sets, and appropriately nostalgic lighting and color schemes. Above all else, it's a superbly acted character study about a man once considered the second most powerful in America – although he could have easily been the first, considering the control he had over elected officials.

-- Chris Pandolfi (www.atatheaternearyou.net)
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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. But without the Good
SteveBVa11 November 2011
"J. Edgar " started out slow and cheesy and got progressively worse. I don't think there was any portion of this movie I could say something good about. The writing was awful, the acting was awful, occasionally rising to OK, and the directing was awful. I can't say that the editing was awful as it appears that they didn't edit it. Incredibly long scenes of nothingness seemed to linger - making the 2 hour plus movie feel more like 5 hours.

The movie didn't shed light on anything new and it didn't tell the story particularly well.

And a word about the make-up. Wow. I have never seen a big budget movie with such horrendous makeup. The makeup was so bad that it was distracting. Literally every scene in which Clyde Tolson appeared as an older man was painful to watch. He appeared to be a badly burned man who may have actually been still melting at the time of filming.

Do yourself a favor and wait until this comes out on Netflix. And then when it comes out on Netflix, do yourself a further favor and even avoid it then.
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Eastwood misfires with the bio pic
metalrox_200029 August 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I'm not really sure where to begin.

I could start with the consistent jumping back and forth in time. It happens at such a pace you can't tell when is the "present day" and when is the past. The script is rather tepid and poorly delivered. The set design is drab, and the consistent poor lighting is also a distraction.

One of the main sticking issues is..does Eastwood want to paint Hoover as a hero? Does he want to paint him as a gay man trying to lead a secret public life? Do we Pity J.Edgar? Should we despise him? When the film drags on and on, not really going anywhere, you find yourself not caring at all about one of the most controversial figures in modern American Times. And when the time comes for J.Edgar to pass away, the film treats it with a "hey look, he's dead" attitude.

I enjoy bi-op films, but this just really dragged on, like the dentist appointment from hell. Even if you are a die-hard fan of anyone in this movie, or of Eastwood's films, avoid this one as if it didn't exist.
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A badly dropped ball.
geodrake-71-62719829 January 2012
Hoover was a fascinating character who was involved in some very dubious power play and whose legacy lasts in American life even today. The man behind the public image - closet homosexual, cross dresser, megalomaniac - makes a perfect biopic subject. Sadly 'J. Edgar' fails to capitalise on this. DiCaprio, who is a very talented actor, was unwisely cast in the lead. Not only does he look nothing like the man he's playing but he also fails to bring sufficient charisma or menace to the role. Dame Dench supplies the best acting as Hoover's stiflingly overbearing mother. Armie Hammer's part as Hoover's love interest is underplayed and under-used. The screenplay and direction deliberately try to portray Hoover as uncontroversially as possible; giving him the benefit of the doubt and trying to make out his actions were merely dictated by his insecurities. Under it all he was just confused lonely man looking for love. Methinks (and history shows) the truth was a lot darker. His part in and impact on the political scene is skimmed over, we never get a true sense of what he accomplished; for good or ill. All we're left with is the fuzzy picture of a bland old man that doesn't do Hoover or the audience any justice. Swamping DiCaprio and Hammer in ridiculous prosthetics to portray their character's ageing was another big mistake.
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Great -noirish- things, but (as a whole) it didn't work for me
RainDogJr25 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Was GRAN TORINO the very last film with the legendary Clint Eastwood acting? Yes. Is GRAN TORINO going to be the very last Eastwood film that I get on Blu-Ray/DVD to watch it *again*? Well, maybe. I have yet to see his HEREAFTER (which doesn't have the best reviews out there, by the way), but INVICTUS and now J. EDGAR (both biographical films) left me disappointed and with no desires to add them as soon as possible to my personal collection. It's been almost two years since I watched the film about Nelson Mandela and I haven't felt any need to do it again. I'm sure it will happen the very same with this one, the film about the first director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover. However there is a huge difference here, since I did find some truly great things in J. EDGAR. Hell, I LOVED some of them. It is an interesting case, and is almost sad to say that in the end (as a whole) it didn't work for me.

First, I will write quickly about Leonardo DiCaprio's performance, since everybody has been talking a lot about it (I think it's a surprise that he wasn't nominated for the Oscar). He is quite fantastic and even tough that he is doing great things should not be news anymore, his interpretation of J. Edgar Hoover as both a young and elderly man is really something to write and talk about. And certainly is also kind of sad that a performance of this caliber is not part of a great picture. So why this isn't something I already want to watch again? There is some criticism towards the choice of showing the personal side of J. Edgar, and not going a bit deeper with FBI issues. I understand that, as indeed J. Edgar *was* the chief of the FBI for more than 30 years so there should be plenty of strong and kind of powerful stories. However, I can't say the film went wrong because of this. For me is more like saying "OK, so you want to show J. Edgar's sentimental side and make of his apparent homosexuality a huge deal. That's great, BUT you better do it right".

Actually of all this was a surprise for me. I didn't know a damn thing about J. Edgar nor that the writer of the film was Dustin Lance Black (of MILK fame). The narrative is fine: we see the elderly J. Edgar reviving some of his old stories for the guys who are helping him to do a memoir or something like that, so we move back and forward. So, and again, what went wrong? Simply the execution of some things, as you can tell. Some scenes feel as the parody of the real thing, if that makes sense.

And you know what, the makeup went also very f****** wrong! I was somewhat pleasantly surprised when I saw that Armie Hammer was here, since I'm a big fan of THE SOCIAL NETWORK. He plays Hoover's right hand Clyde Tolson. And he, together with Naomi Watt's (who goes pretty much without any glory nor bad critics) character Helen Gandy (a highly reliable secretary), grows old together with Hoover. Musician John Mayer said it right (when discussing autotune): "the only time you can ever talk about plastic surgery is akin to the only time you can ever talk about autotune, which is during bad examples of it". Hammer's makeup -unlike DiCaprio's, which makes the case stranger- is akin to a bad plastic surgery! We should not be talking about bad makeup in a Clint Eastwood film! But believe me, this time there is some and frankly it makes some scenes even laughable (like for instance seeing elderly Hoover and Tolson together).

But like I said, I did love some things about J. EDGAR. Actually some of it is simply a masterpiece of a damn good and entertaining crime picture. We have the classic story, the classic rise of the genius and visionary man (in this case a man who knew intelligence and science were key factors to deal with crime). Is all very noirish (the "crime of the century" - the kidnap and murdered of Charles Lindbergh's son- is shown), and there's stuff about cinema (how criminals were sort of glorified in movies with, for instance James Cagney. And how Hoover wanted the same glorification for him – and you have to see what happens when someone say that Hoover didn't kill Dillinger!). So in a way, and for a fan of crime pictures like myself, with all of this there's nothing much to ask for; there's even a really interesting turn of events by the end. It is really clever. Maybe all of this L.A. NOIRE-kind of thing makes me revisit at some point this strange case for Mr. Eastwood.

*Watched it on the big screen on January 17, 2012
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Hoover's mother's dress may be Eastwood's 'Rosebud'
Turfseer12 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Once upon a time, Clint Eastwood was a right-wing Republican who churned out revenge fantasies about vigilantes who breathlessly enjoyed taking the law into their own hands. In these 'ancient' times, J. Edgar Hoover may have been one of Eastwood's heroes. As Hollywood has changed quite a bit since then, Eastwood instinctively realized that if he didn't change with the times, he could barely survive in a new politically correct world. Given the new exigencies, Eastwood could no longer ignore all of Hoover's bad behavior, including the iconic FBI director's paranoia and abject pettiness. Fortunately for Mr. Eastwood, he found the perfect politically correct screenwriter in Dustin Lance Black, who could mitigate Hoover's bad points by not only focusing on his private life as a closeted, repressed homosexual but also turning him into a tragic figure who was scarred by a manipulative and overbearing mother.

Mr. Black does far worse in depicting Hoover's public persona than his private one. In Citizen Kane-like fashion, narration and a series of flashbacks are utilized to tell Hoover's story. But unlike Kane, which is told from multiple points of view, Hoover's story comes from Hoover himself, who is seen dictating his memoirs in his office to various FBI agents during the 60s and early 70s. The flashbacks for the early period begin in the early 20s when Hoover recounts his stint as a young lawyer in the Justice Department and how he became involved in that Department's crusade against so-called radicals and subversives, initiated by Attorney General Palmer in 1919 (whose home is shown dramatically firebombed in the beginning of the film).

Black has great difficulty in dramatizing the Director's early career and we see one dubious scene of Hoover participating in a raid where radicals are eventually deported. More interesting is Hoover's obsession with details in the scene where he reveals his new card catalog system at the Library of Congress to his secretary-to-be, Helen Gandy. Black addresses Hoover's pettiness in taking all the credit for the G-men's heroics including his most egregious conduct in that regard, the demotion of Agent Purvis, responsible for the take down of John Dillinger. Black alludes to all of this but we never see the conflict with Purvis successfully dramatized. So desperate for drama, Black spends a good deal of time dissecting the Lindbergh kidnapping, which Hoover was only tangentially involved in. But even the Lindbergh scene fails to flow as Black interrupts the action by cutting back to events from the 60s. Josh Lucas is totally wrong as Lindbergh, as not only doesn't he look like him, but has no dialogue that conveys the famed aviator's dynamism.

Jeffrey Donovan looks a lot more like Robert Kennedy and manages to get the accent right but Hoover's whole conflict with the Kennedy's is reduced to Bobby telling J. Edgar in essence, "times have changed". Even more sketchy is Hoover's treatment of Martin Luther King. Because we see everything from Hoover's point of view and never meet any of the Civil Rights era characters he opposes, his egregious conduct seems muted. Eastwood must resort to cheap shots such as having Hoover listen to a salacious tape (presumably of a MLK tryst), and receiving a phone call at the same time, right after JFK is shot.

Eastwood and Black are on more solid ground in attempting to humanize Hoover by providing insight into his private life. Since little is known of what went on behind 'closed doors', a screenwriter is obligated to take dramatic license and speculate as to the events that could have unfolded. Eastwood does well in not showing Hoover as sexually aggressive and actually not initiating a sexual encounter with his long term confidante, Clyde Tolson, who he appointed his associate director at the FBI. In Dustin Lance Black's view, it was Tolson who was the sexual aggressor, and fashions a scene where Hoover rebuffs Tolson after he kisses him following Hoover's revelation that he might have had a sexual encounter with the screen actress, Dorothy Lamour. For a good part of the film, Black depicts Tolson as a toady, picking out his wardrobe at expensive clothing stores and indulging Hoover in his forays at the racetrack. Only after Tolson falls victim to a stroke does he seem to muster the courage to confront Hoover, criticizing him for his selfish behavior and paranoid outlook (Tolson's critique is illustrated in the 'correct' flashback where Hoover no longer receives credit for arresting all those criminals he claimed to have taken down personally). Tolson here is really Black's conscience speaking, and whether Tolson would have turned on Hoover in that way, I have no idea. What's missing is any sense of Tolson's intellectual life and ultimately he's little more than an entertaining stereotype of a closeted gay man.

DiCaprio does a decent job depicting a control freak Hoover minus the Kane-like gyrations at the end. Armie Hammer's Tolson is entertaining (sans the bad makeup job as the elderly Tolson) but Naomi Watts has little to do as the secretary. Judi Dench is excellent as the demented mom.

Like Orson Welles, Eastwood falters in attempting to turn Hoover into a tragic figure who didn't really like himself. Welles unfairly criticized William Randolph Hearst by speciously linking 'Rosebud' (Kane's childhood keepsake, a sled) to a miserable childhood. Hoover's mother's dress (the one he puts on after she dies) is perhaps Eastwood's 'Rosebud'--the dress also symbolizes Hoover's inability to escape his attachment to his mother and her disparagement of his sexuality which he must suppress (the mother's 'daffodil' comment is the last straw!).

But perhaps Eastwood and Black's interpretation is all wrong. Perhaps Hoover actually did like himself and didn't have an inferiority complex due to his overbearing mother. If that's the case, Hoover should be seen as far more maniacal than Eastwood lets on here. All the harm that Hoover was responsible for, can no longer be chalked up to a "bad childhood."
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Another Gem From Eastwood!
RaiderJack15 May 2012
If you are expecting ridicule, vilification, or even justification, this would be the wrong movie to watch on J. Edgar Hoover.

Eastwood delivers a dark brooding, and rather objective look at one of the most controversial and polarizing figures in America. While the story itself may not be overly compelling, it does offer explanations behind some of the motivations that made up the man, John Edgar Hoover. The cinematography was a ...crucial element in creating and maintaining throughout a sense of secrecy, brooding, alienation, as well as distance. The chronology is disparate and effective: at times we see Hoover dictating his memoirs to an array of journalists and then we are taken back to the time in question, all the while framed in this overcast mood that fits the film and its subject matter perfectly. As a matter of fact, the manner in which this was filmed constitutes, to me, the biggest indication of Eastwood's opinion one way or the other - Hoover was a dark man with some even darker secrets.

J.Edgar's homosexuality as well as his proclivity for cross-dressing are only suggested and are handled with the utmost sensitivity. There is one scene which strongly implies his helplessness with his desires to cross-dress that was simply quite touching. And the relationship between Hoover and Tolson was beautifully written. No, I did not come away feeling empathy/sympathy for Hoover at all; neither were any of my perceptions surrounding him challenged in the least. I did leave the film however with surely a more heightened sense of his humanity.

This could NOT have been accomplished however, were it not for the positively riveting performance by Di Caprio. This guy can just ACT, okay? The other supporting players were equally excellent, most notably, Judi Dench who played his overbearing mother, Naomi Watts as his faithful secretary, Helen Gandy, and Armie Hammer, as Hoover's lifelong companion, Clyde Tolson. Some of the movie's most compelling scenes involved these three and all three gave powerhouse supporting performances to match Di Caprio.

I highly recommend as yet another excellent outing from a very good director.
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The person behind the man
cinematic_aficionado21 January 2012
A movie about one of the most renowned personalities of America's 20th century directed by one of its most respected directors made it one very highly on my 'to see' list.

The film does not waste much time in giving us a sight of what a powerful even notorious personality the homonymous character is, including his very strong anti-communist sentiments. As far as his character goes he appears as swift to respond, highly intelligent but also highly paranoid, a predator, a hawk, always switched on, always on the edge, without any peace who did not appreciate having any limitations to his authority or power. During a very poignant dialogue towards the end, between Hoover and his assistant Tolson, it becomes very clear how Hoover did not appreciate criticism and were unable to handle the truth expecting others to simply accept his version of the truth.

As we are treated to a more intimate view in his life the closeness to his mother does not go undetected and neither it should as with all personality deficiencies (in men at least) the relationship with their mother is one to closely watch. It was because of her influence in Edgar that left him with a pervasive sense of threat as well as a hunger for power, an influence that amongst other things caused him to be socially limited. Even towards the end of the film where our main character has grown much older (frail physically but not emotionally), his ways have not been altered in any way and one could even presume that his megalomania and paranoia are grown even more.

Despite the aspects of Edgar's character the audience might not come to like, Clint Eastwood does a superb job in making sure that Hoover's gifts are also highlighted which include: impressive energy levels, vigorous memory, capacity to detect patterns and an ability to receiver, process, comprehend & communicate information extremely effectively.

Though not a dark film, this biopic has dark undertones suited perhaps to the personality it portrays. There are very few outdoor scenes, little light in general, and it would also seem that J Edgar was the workaholic type who did not have much of a social or private life. Regarding his social life, he appears outgoing but not very sociable and in connection to his private life we are led to assume that he was a homosexual, which was a cause for him to suffer, perhaps loathe himself, due to the religiously incited anti-gay sentiment preached by his over controlling mother. His inability to fully accept who he was must have, beyond question, caused him plenty of frustration. On this matter, there's a poignant scene in the movie where his mother said (paraphrased): I'd rather have a dead son than a gay son.

With the above in mind, one question that must be therefore raised is whether his quest for power and authority was driven by his ideas/values for a better society or because it provided him with a sense of self worth? Why wasn't' he ever satisfied or willing to give up power? There is also some resemblance, albeit small, of 'The Aviator' another biopic with DiCaprio in the leading role.

DiCaprio gives a forceful performance and carries the film, which is part biopic & part political drama, compellingly. If there is a criticism about this movie it would have to be that it is rather slow and often made me wonder as to where it is heading with the constant interaction between Hoover's youth and later years.

This is an accomplished biographical drama/character study that although it might not be to everyone's taste, nonetheless to those with a keen interest in politics or US history in the 20th century or simply those interested in finding out more about the enigmatic J. Edgar Hoover, this is the film to watch.
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