There's an early scene in Clint Eastwood's bio-pic, J. Edgar, about which the whole movie – and J. Edgar Hoover's law enforcement/political persona – seems to turn. Hoover is still a young lad, sometime following World War I and the Russian Revolution that immediately followed, in which a building in the U.S. is bombed by Trotsky-type radicals. Hoover's appalled at the carnage, and he immediately fixates on the communist movement as evil, a socio-political force that must be stopped at all costs.
image via itsdilovely.com
He soon ends up as the FBI's head, committed to the destruction of such threats to the U.S.'s well being. In the process, he reforms the agency and develops "new" technology for use in crime fighting, in this case the use of fingerprints. So how did Hoover manage to gain such a tarnished reputation?
It's an age-old parable, one world societies haven't yet found a comfortable answer to, i.e., socio-political forces in one era take on a wicked cast, but as they continue to mutate in the ever-obvious need to remain in existence – and relevant to boot – their fangs become blunted, possibly to impotence. But people such as Hoover (and we see this in the various religious arenas as well) remain freeze-framed in the way they were (or seemed).
So to Hoover, the later labor movements of the 'thirties, the civil rights groups of the 'sixties, even his obsession with Kennedy's and Eleanor Roosevelt's claimed sexual peccadilloes, took on the same decadent air as the bomb-throwing radicals of his adolescence. The irony I think Eastwood wants us to take home is that those who don't change become impotent, too.
Of the ongoing rumors of Hoover's homosexuality, Eastwood makes next to nothing – an appropriate posture for this age. His close relationship with Clyde Tolson is not portrayed as scandalous, simply as sad, even pathetic, given the temper of their time.
Leo DiCaprio is topnotch in his portrayal of Hoover (he's in for the long haul as an actor, already playing superlative character roles). Judi Dench plays her part as Hoover's dominating mother with appropriate grit and subtlety. And Leo's makeup crew has to be up for an Oscar.
While biographical movies of this sort suffer under cinematic limitations of nuance, I think Eastwood has created yet another keeper in J. Edgar.
My rating: 15 of 20 stars