21 January 2012 | cinematic_aficionado
The person behind the man
A movie about one of the most renowned personalities of America's 20th century directed by one of its most respected directors made it one very highly on my 'to see' list.
The film does not waste much time in giving us a sight of what a powerful even notorious personality the homonymous character is, including his very strong anti-communist sentiments. As far as his character goes he appears as swift to respond, highly intelligent but also highly paranoid, a predator, a hawk, always switched on, always on the edge, without any peace who did not appreciate having any limitations to his authority or power. During a very poignant dialogue towards the end, between Hoover and his assistant Tolson, it becomes very clear how Hoover did not appreciate criticism and were unable to handle the truth expecting others to simply accept his version of the truth.
As we are treated to a more intimate view in his life the closeness to his mother does not go undetected and neither it should as with all personality deficiencies (in men at least) the relationship with their mother is one to closely watch. It was because of her influence in Edgar that left him with a pervasive sense of threat as well as a hunger for power, an influence that amongst other things caused him to be socially limited. Even towards the end of the film where our main character has grown much older (frail physically but not emotionally), his ways have not been altered in any way and one could even presume that his megalomania and paranoia are grown even more.
Despite the aspects of Edgar's character the audience might not come to like, Clint Eastwood does a superb job in making sure that Hoover's gifts are also highlighted which include: impressive energy levels, vigorous memory, capacity to detect patterns and an ability to receiver, process, comprehend & communicate information extremely effectively.
Though not a dark film, this biopic has dark undertones suited perhaps to the personality it portrays. There are very few outdoor scenes, little light in general, and it would also seem that J Edgar was the workaholic type who did not have much of a social or private life. Regarding his social life, he appears outgoing but not very sociable and in connection to his private life we are led to assume that he was a homosexual, which was a cause for him to suffer, perhaps loathe himself, due to the religiously incited anti-gay sentiment preached by his over controlling mother. His inability to fully accept who he was must have, beyond question, caused him plenty of frustration. On this matter, there's a poignant scene in the movie where his mother said (paraphrased): I'd rather have a dead son than a gay son.
With the above in mind, one question that must be therefore raised is whether his quest for power and authority was driven by his ideas/values for a better society or because it provided him with a sense of self worth? Why wasn't' he ever satisfied or willing to give up power? There is also some resemblance, albeit small, of 'The Aviator' another biopic with DiCaprio in the leading role.
DiCaprio gives a forceful performance and carries the film, which is part biopic & part political drama, compellingly. If there is a criticism about this movie it would have to be that it is rather slow and often made me wonder as to where it is heading with the constant interaction between Hoover's youth and later years.
This is an accomplished biographical drama/character study that although it might not be to everyone's taste, nonetheless to those with a keen interest in politics or US history in the 20th century or simply those interested in finding out more about the enigmatic J. Edgar Hoover, this is the film to watch.