J. Edgar Hoover was an interesting man who helped build up the FBI, took down bank robbers and communists. His social life was unclear as it was clear he had a very long and special relationship with his aide Clyde Tolson. This film doesn’t exactly want to push you in any direction. You could come out of this loving, hating or simply not caring about J. Edgar Hoover, that was the point. The film has no real tone, it’s like a long history lesson with pieces of what could be Hoover’s life. I think the actors in this film must be noted for doing a beyond than stellar job. We all expect this from Leonardo DiCaprio who plays Hoover over a forty year span. The actors around him though keep up speed and that alone is a reason to see this film.
We start very early on in 1919 where Hoover began his mission to take down “revolutionists” which quickly lead him to start running the FBI. The film can never really decide to be a straight historical story or dive into Hoover’s complex issues. Here we see Hoover has some big time mommy issues, along with wanting ultimate power and control. This did lead him though to create the FBI into a force that would use science and advanced techniques to take down criminals. Armie Hammer plays Clyde Thompson who becomes a close friend to Hoover and most likely his lover. The film never nails us right on the nose with this, but it sure is implied. Beyond his limited relationships with people, Hoover clearly put all of his attention into his work. After first it was rounding up communists in the United States, his attention then had to focus on bank robbers. The film has to jump around a lot as it goes over many different spans of time.
The film also shows J. Edger is his older years where he very much butted heads with the Kennedy’s and unfairly went after Martin Luther King. Believing his people would be connected to socialist groups he had his hotel rooms bugged. These scenes though aren’t to throw J. Edgar under the bus, they are trying to show us that the man didn’t really trust anyone. He was always worried and looking for the next threat. The only thing he seemed to care about was the survival of the country. Even though DiCaprio looks nothing like Hoover he does a very solid job portraying the man. He got his voice down very well.
Eastwood’s visual style is also something to note here, everything is very cold and dark. A lot of shadows and straight forward shots. Essentially Eastwood even visually was trying to make it clear he wasn’t picking a side. The only problem I really ever had in this movie comes from the old age make up. On DiCaprio it’s not that bad, it stands out but it’s not horrible. Armie Hammer on the other hand looks beyond silly. It doesn’t help that Hammer over does his old man type physical movements, every scene where Hammer plays old Tolson is really hard to sit through. It’s a shame because a lot of those scenes are really strong. In the end the complaint is minor but hard to ignore.
If you are a fan of history you will like this film. This isn’t a light historical film, the action is limited, the film never tries to be edgy. J. Edgar is a film trying to show both sides of a man who could be called a hero or a villain. It never really wants to form an opinion for you. I really liked that, for me I found this film very interesting, yet I can see why some people may not like it. If you like history and want to see a story about one of the most important people in the last one hundred years, you won’t be disappointed.