Film Review: J Edgar Hoover

Film Review: J Edgar Hoover

Careless words cost lives.

The above copy line was part of the War campaign used in the 1940s in the UK. Everything seemed much simpler then, black and white, good and evil. Folk believed those in power were the good guys, with our best interests at heart.

My, how things have changed. Through the hyper real, full spectrum, high definition 3D lense of 2012, we know such simplistic beliefs are formed from lies, feed to us by the very ones in power, the ones we trust. Or do we?

It depends on how much you know, how much you’ve researched. Checked facts, spotted inconsistencies, filtered the spin, recognised the opportunism in fear. Information is power, and in Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, J Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) knew this, he knew spin and how to create fear. Unfortunately for a very many people, he chose to use this power in highly destructive ways.

It’s hardly surprising really, a man who dealt in secrets as the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (which he helped establish) and maintained his position through eight presidents (by essentially blackmailing them), used the very same skills to suppress knowledge of his own life. He trusted only a few people, and those people remained eternally loyal, namely his secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), even when it was clear that any original core values he may have had, were well gone.

Ironically, he clearly had more secrets about himself than most too. A severely repressed homosexual, who apparently never acted on or fulfilled his true nature, despite spending the majority of his life with his ‘companion’ Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). He was also a heavy gambler and a drug addict. Add into this heady mix a phenomenally overbearing mother, Annie Hoover (Judi Dench) who moulded the stammering young Edgar into the self loathing, unsatisfied, puritanical beast of a man.

And what a strange beast of a movie it is too. The talent is lined up, the research done, the attention to detail achieved. But it is difficult to understand why such talent and time has been spent on such a deeply repulsive cold man. He may have contributed to setting up the FBI, and encouraged the use of finger printing in bringing criminals to justice. But he was racist, homophobic, xenophobic, corrupt and tried to manipulate and suppress the laws and freedoms of all Americans. He was the closet thing to a dictator modern America has seen.

You feel this ever increasingly as the movie plays out. And you realise there are parallels with contemporary politics/governance both in the USA and the UK.

Rightly so, this is an extremely important subject to be raised, but moments in the movie that appear to want to add a hint of tenderness to this deeply disturbed man, unfortunately only make him come across as a bitter old Queen. Armie Hammer’s portrayal of Tolson is incredibly camp. At times it was though we were watching the gay Scottish interior decorators Justin and Colin on the big screen, much to the glee of the UK audience I saw it with.

Film Review: J Edgar Hoover

Overall, the movie seems to suffer from the split personality of it’s subject. It’s very well made, intelligent, some great acting, but then it has flashes (possibly sequins) of something else, that jar heavily with the severity of some of the topics.

Like Hoover himself, it’s flawed. Thankfully, unlike the man, there are redeeming qualities to the movie.

J. Edgar is released in the UK on 20th January by Warner Bros