By LeAnne Lindsay
He was a mysterious figure in American history. His personal life was always shrouded in mystery … He was this bulldog figure, the face of the FBI, and he changed our country in a time of great lawlessness. Bank robbers were going from state to state becoming local heroes; he cleaned up all that mess. Got rid of the Commies and Bolshevik invasion while single handily creating this new federal police force. He was part of modern forensics and identifying everybody in our country. But then there were all those salacious rumors that you heard about him too. So it was very exciting to see somebody’s (Clint Eastwood) very specific take on who J. Edgar Hoover was through these different time periods. From the beginning of his career… to the end …where he became a political dinosaur and didn’t adapt to the changing of our country – Leonardo DiCaprio
Immediately after the Film Festival, The Philadelphia Film Society got back to their weekly preview screenings in a big way, with the much anticipated Clint Eastwood film – J. Edgarr, starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role and Naomi Watts as J. Edgar Hoover’s trusted and lifetime assistant, Helen Gandy.
Films like this are why I love biopics. I was never a very good student of history and although I realize biopics are certainly no replacement for the accuracy of classes and books, they fill in hazy knowledge of what was going on in specific time periods — how certain events intersected and the origins of things we just take for granted now.
Before watching this film, what I knew of J. Edgar Hoover – he ran the FBI for a long time. I had no idea he created it, nor did I realize he served through 8 United States Presidents! And then of course, in later years, we all heard about the cross dressing. I like the way the movie handles this possible quirk – that if he wore women’s clothes, it may have been as a way to channel or bring himself closer to his mother (Dame Judi Dench) once she passed. Not like Anthony Perkins in Psycho or anything over the top like that, just as a moment of grief.
This film is not played for sensationalism at all. Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black (Milk) keep everything very grounded and gray, as if you’re revisiting it all through a faded, old newspaper. It’s a veritable time capsule of history: from the post WW1 red scare hysterics, to the depression era outlaws, to the Lindbergh kidnapping, and into the turmoil and assassinations of the 60’s.
But the film finds its color in the close relationships Hoover had with just three people in his life; the previously mentioned, Gandy, his mother, who took on the role of confidant, advisor, champion and heavy task-master. And most importantly, his colleague, friend, second in command (and lover?) Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Although the two were life-long companions, the “G” in G-Man did not stand for gay. And perhaps even more than the lack of societal acceptance of same sex relationships during his lifetime, Hoover’s sense of decorum, duty and pride would never have allowed him to admit to homosexuality.
I’ve seen most of Leonardo DiCaprio’s movies, not because he’s in them, but despite the fact. I’ve never really been a fan, however, in my opinion, this is truly his best work to date. He really loses himself in Hoover, particularly as the older version.
My prediction: The film will earn no less than 5 Oscar nominations, which considering the talent behind it, including producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, it doesn’t exactly take a crystal ball.
LeAnne Lindsay is a PFS Blog contributor. For more of LeAnne’s writing, visit Tinsel & Tine.
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