By Rachel Ambelang
Everyone has secrets, and most of us worry about what the consequences would be if they were ever discovered. In Clint Eastwood’s most recent film, “J. Edgar,” J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI for almost 50 years, is portrayed as the keeper of secrets, both the government’s and his own.
The film is an interesting spin on a biopic. It opens in the early 1970s toward the end of Hoover’s life. Hoover (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) believes that his reputation, and that of the FBI, will be misrepresented after his death. So he decides to write down his side of the events that took place during his time at the FBI. It is through these recollections that the film gives Hoover’s story.
“J. Edgar” goes back and forth between flashbacks of a young Hoover who is desperately trying to build what would become the FBI and an old man who is losing respect among the American people and the government, as well as everyone he loves.
The film focuses on many of the highlights of Hoover’s career, but also on the many downfalls that his focus and lies caused in his personal life.
Hoover had a mother (played by Judi Dench, best known for playing “M” in the James Bond series) that put an immense amount of expectation and guilt on him from the time he was a young boy. No amount of fame or success seemed to be enough to please her, and failure in any situation was always Hoover’s fault.
Despite her questionable treatment of her son, Hoover loved his mother and constantly asked for her advice and consolation. However, his mother’s love was not unconditional like his, and when Hoover began showing signs of being what his mother called “a daffodil,” the line between love and reputation was clearly drawn.
Hoover tried more than once to settle down with a woman, but his affections for his right-hand man Clyde Tolson (played by Armie Hammer, who played Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss in “The Social Network”) kept him from ever getting married. Rumors always circulated around Hoover having been homosexual, although this was something that has never been explicitly confirmed.
Hoover’s job was to collect files on the secrets of others, but he became consumed with concealing his own. Hoover desperately attempted to be the person that both he and his mother wanted him to be. For the sake of his reputation and his career, he strove to maintain his image in every way, but this film shows how much he lost because of his determination.
Clint Eastwood directed an amazing cast of actors for this film, and as always the end result is spectacular. Eastwood’s ability to allude to key historical and emotional events without having the characters outright explain what is happening is rare and always sets him a part as a director. Eastwood’s skill was especially apparent in this incredibly non-linear storyline, which under any other direction could have been extremely confusing.
Leonardo DiCaprio once again shows off his ability to play a troubled character that does not seem to be aware of just how troubled he is. While there are times I wish DiCaprio would lighten up and play a comedic part just for kicks, I cannot deny that he never fails to deliver a convincing performance for any of these complex characters, including J. Edgar Hoover. Somehow, DiCaprio makes you pity, despise and root for Hoover simultaneously.
“J. Edgar” is a story of a man whose legend is tainted, but only because he is human. He no doubt influenced the outcome of this country, and while some of his actions are questionable, the film does make one thing clear. J. Edgar Hoover loved his country. Whether or not that was his personal downfall is left for the audience to decide.
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