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Customer Review

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal exploration of a mythic character, 21 Jan. 2012
This review is from: J. Edgar [DVD] [2012] (DVD)
I will be short on this film because it probably is one of the best by Clint Eastwood.

First the actors. They have to cover a whole life and it starts in their early twenties and ends in their late seventies with diseases and death. It is not only a question of special makeup effects but it is a question of deportment, behaviour, rhythm, flexibility, credibility at any age in their facial expressions and their language. It takes time, a lot of training and great talent to do that. If it were easy they would all do it. Very few actually can.

Second the institutional subject. The creation of the FBI. Its transformation from a semi-clandestine agency to a scientific, well trained and very effective and diligent institution. The film is clear how difficult it was to get laws passed and finances granted by Congress. Some of the arguments were opportunistic and some were logical, but they all had only one aim: to get what it needs to become the best. J. Edgar Hoover was in a way irritating in his way to serialize the action of the FBI for the nascent mass-media that the radio and the cinema were becoming. He was extremely disturbing in his umbilical ego-centeredness or ego-centricity. But that was him and the actor is able to render this cold, calculated and very tense character who had a problem with public elocution and had managed to overcome it with an extremely strict discipline.

That leads to his action and his vision of the FBI. He was extremely authoritative and manipulative. He never took no for an answer and for him one no was always a disguised and hidden yes. He accumulated information on all the people he could one day depend on, politicians, congressmen and justices or judges, to blackmail them if necessary. He generally had his way and one of his major failures was with Martin Luther King that he could not blackmail into refusing the Nobel Peace Prize. The film is at times on the very verge of being embarrassing, though it only speaks of dead figures because it is dealing with rumors on Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Richard Nixon and a few others. I am not even sure some of the information is not frankly false.

But Clint Eastwood is a patriot and he shows the patriotic side of the character with insistence and weight, to the point of reaching bigotry at times, for example on the subject of racism. He built the FBI in the fight against the anarchist and communist movement in the 20s and 30s, against the gangsters of the 20s and Prohibition, against the Germans in the 30s too, without specifying the political innuendo of the national reference in 1934 among Americans questioned by the FBI about someone who had a German accent. No nuance. Clint Eastwood gives his matter raw and uncooked at all.

But Clint Eastwood reaches beyond these elements to capture the real personal and intimate dimension of his character. And here he is not using innuendo and allusions. J. Edgar Hoover's relation with his direct deputy is seen as a sentimental relation on the side of the deputy and an emotional relation on the side of J. Edgar Hoover himself. The tremendous condemnation of any gay orientation by his mother creates in him a tremendous struggle due to his attachment to his mother. The truth will come at the very end with a friendly even paternal kiss to his deputy on the night before dying. He will explain how he recruited him because he needed someone and he knew that young man needed a strong paternal figure that he accepted to be.

Of course the revelation of the love of that young man for his boss is dramatized by Clint Eastwood, and maybe even too much because that was the intimate and private life of two men who did not reveal anything in public, far from it. But it is done with such delicacy, tenderness. J. Edgar Hoover appears in the film as having compensated the absence of a father figure and the presence of a strong authoritarian mother figure on his side, by playing that father figure with his direct deputy who needed such a father figure. The compensated lack of J. Edgar Hoover became the satisfaction of the need of his deputy. So much alike and yet so different.

That personal touch in this film makes the film a lot more fascinating because it speaks of something that may happen to anyone: love is the only thing that survives in life and is stronger than even hatred as J. Edgar Hoover explains as he is climbing the stairs to his bedroom for the very last time in his life.

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