J. Edgar is as much a historic tale about J. Edgar Hoover, the first director of the FBI and the FBI’s origins as it is an unintentional love story and a reflection of society’s feelings about homosexuality in the mid-to late-20th century.
The film is told through a series of flashbacks, as an old Hoover, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is telling his life story to members of his staff. Though the flashbacks may be confusing at times, the prosthetic makeup used to age Hoover, his close friend and deputy director to the FBI, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) and long time secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) ,helps to make the timeline more succinct.
The movie tells not only the interesting history of the early years of the FBI, including the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s young son and the role it played in the creation of the bureau, but how Hoover allegedly used blackmail to stay in power. Hoover served as the head of the FBI for 37 years, a term length unheard of in politics today, from its creation in 1935 until his death in 1972.
The scenes are often dark both visually and at times emotionally, helping to show Hoover’s true character. DiCaprio is not charming as Hoover, but is a man who is both hated and respected by many.
Hoover was long rumored to be a homosexual and a cross-dresser in a time when homosexual behavior was taboo in America. Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, best known for his work on “Milk,” addresses this in a tasteful and thought provoking manner.
The rumored relationship and sexual tension between Hoover and Tolson provide for some of the more interesting and emotional scenes in the movie.
Hammer, best known for portraying the Winklevoss Twins in “The Social Network,” stands out and often steals the scene from DiCaprio. He is both charming and alluring as a young Tolson, and senile and shaky as an older Tolson.
Although Hoover may not have been the best person, his unique personality and fascinating story make “J. Edgar” a must-see movie, and a likely contender come awards season.
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