Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Leonardo Di Caprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench
Running Time: 137 minutes
Prohibition, World War 2, the Lindenburg baby, John Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly, cross-dressing, JFK’s assassination and the birth of the FBI. The life and career of J.Edgar Hoover is so rich with content that any one looking to adapt his life was destined to fall upon on a double-edged sword. Unfortunately, it’s a trap Clint Eastwood has fallen into with J.Edgar, which remains an adequate examination of the godfather of investigation yet leaves an awful lot lacking.
Beginning with a young Hoover’s (DiCaprio) involvement in The Palmer Raids, Milk scribe Dustin Lance Black’s script takes us through his almost half-century career, from his involvement in the Linderburgh baby abduction, to gang busting and his crowning as the first director of the FBI. Important landmarks as they may be in a both decorated and shameful career, it’s Hoover’s personal relationships that the most light is shed on, primarily that with long-time friend, confidant and alleged lover Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).
Di Caprio’s performance as the isolated loner is pitch perfect. Manipulated from birth by an over bearing mother, he leads a life afraid of outside contamination of his ethos and creed, much to the detriment of his social life. An appallingly embarrassing marriage proposal to future secretary Helen Gandy, played by a reanimated Naomi Watts in later scenes, would make even the likes of Gervais and Coogan blush.
With all the focus on Leo, spare a thought for Hammer, getting his first real break-out role since his doppelganger turn in The Social Network. He shows all the confidence and panache of a Winklevoss but with added sincerity, frailty and tortured neglect. Tolson and Hoover’s bond is the film’s strongest point, unrequited and unfulfilled. It may just be one of the best on-screen relationships this side of Brokeback Mountain, easily squashing reports it had been suitably ‘de-gayed’ before release. Hoover’s flirtation with women’s clothing even gets a brief exposition, following on from a crushing comment from his mother – Judie Dench being cold and callous as ever – that she’d rather him “dead than a daffodil”.
Performances aside, it’s hard not to find J. Edgar a let down. For all the insight into the man himself, his importance in shaping modern day America gets left behind with simply too much to cover and a lot already addressed in Public Enemies and The Kennedys. A figure that’s been portrayed by over 20 different actors, J. Edgar brings us no closer to the definitive movie on the man, and it’s failures suggest we’ll never see it. Pray for a HBO mini-series one day.