Throughout an illustrious directing career Clint Eastwood has delivered outstanding movies such as Unforgiven, Mystic River, and Million Dollar Baby, for which he has won five Academy Awards, for best Picture, Best Director, and including the Irving Thalberg Life Achievement Award. My personal favorite of all his directed movies is Gran Torino.
The actors who have worked with him have been blessed with Oscar: Gene Hackman for Unforgiven, Tim Robbins and Sean Penn for Mystic River, Morgan Freeman and Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby.
When I heard Clint Eastwood was doing a movie about Hoover, I admit I was somewhat excited, although it would be a challenging movie to do.
I wondered would it deal with the relationship with the Kennedys, conspiracy theories, Hoover's alleged homosexuality, and alleged crossdressing, if it would deal with the entire career, if it would dare to show him in all his unpleasantness and darkness.
If Hoover were alive today, I think he would be horrified at this movie. Undoubtedly, no such movie could have been made while he was alive.
J Edgar deals with the entire span of J Edgar's career and makes brave choices in portraying the relationship between he and his No 2, Colson. The screenplay was written by same person who wrote the screen play for Milk.
With Martin Scorsese making his first movie apart from DiCaprio in 12 years Leonardo does an outstanding job in the title role, as does Armie Hammer in the role of Colson. Naomi Watts plays Hoover's long time secretary to whom he proposes early in the movie, and Judi Dench plays his domineering and controlling mother.
We see certain conflicts, and Hoover's use of Machivellian tactics in pursuing communists, upholding his position as head of the FBI through investigating the high ranking politicians who proved a threat. Whatever one thinks about Hoover one has to acknowledge some brilliance particuarly in organising, popularising the use of fingerprinting evidence, organising a national criminal database leveraging the Lindbergh tragedy to increase his own powers, and creating a highly respected investigative organisation.
It was interesting to see how he was able to use propaganda to boost the reputation of the FBI. At one time the gangsters seemed to hold sway in the public consciousness as heroes, until the FBI's machine gun toting G men replaced them. We also see Hoover's vanity and narcissism in full display, and his racism particularly towards Martin Luther King.
The Hoover story unfolds with Hover dictating his memoirs to a succession of agents. Why would he not use his secretary for this? It seems he wishes to tell his story to these people for vanity, and to promote himself as a legendary icon.
In reality, Hoover was a temple of secrets, and probably the least likely person you could imagine would write his own memoirs. Although, he secretly tape recorded JFK, and MLK for exmaple, his relationship with Colson could possibly have ended his career if the true nature of the relationship became public. It's well known for example that Hoover did not allow women agents, nor did he hire African Americans. Yet, we have him dictating his memoirs at one point to an African American agent.
One of the challenges with the story was the lack of a continuous protagonist, he mostly does battle with entities rather than individuals, such as communism and organised crime. By the 1960s apparently, he got soft on organised crime, while Bobby Kennedy got hard. Yet we have only two scenes in the movie with Bobby Kennedy.
Another difficulty is the excessive use of makeup on several of the actors. With DiCaprio it's fine, but with Naomi Watts, and Arnie Hammer they wear bloodshot contact lenses which was over the top and unnecessary, and distracting. Old people do not necessarily have bloodshot eyes.
I thought the performances by both DiCaprio and Hammer were deserving of Oscar recognition, though neither were nominated.
While Clint Eastwood has probably brought me more enertainment than anyone as both an actor and director, I am not as staunch a supporter of this movie as the others in recent years such as Changeling, Gran Torino, and Invictus. Nevertheless I give it 4 stars because I think it was a very challenging movie to do well.
I hope this was helpful.