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The FBI hunts down John Dillinger and "Baby Face" Nelson
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: Dustin Lance Black
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Geoff Pierson, Cheryl Lawson, Kaitlyn Dever, Brady Matthews, David A. Cooper, Gunner Wright, Ed Westwick, Kelly Lester, Jack Donner, Judi Dench, Dylan Burns, Jordan Bridges, Jeffrey Donovan
Synopsis: As the face of law enforcement in America for almost 50 years, J. Edgar Hoover was feared and admired, reviled and revered. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for brief strong language
J. Edgar Hoover Cameo in "The FBI Story"
Perhaps one of the most controversial figures to ever exist within American history
J. Edgar Hoover can be described in a lot of ways. Some can describe him as a great determined man that spent his entire life establishing the FBI into the law enforcement agency that is today. A man of great defining character that strongly believed in justice, and wouldn't allow anyone to stand in his way of meeting his goals. A man that temporarily brought back credibility to the American justice system, when many used to idolize such gangsters like the infamous John Dillinger.
Or, one could say that he was a paranoid nutcase that was in power far too long, and possibly abused his position to benefit his own means. A man that would resort to blackmailing others, and possibly destroying anyone that would dare cross his path. Whatever the case may be, many historians have yet to uncover the entire truth about this controversial figure to this day. According to history, J. Edgar Hoover was the most powerful man in America for half a century, but how is that possible?
Many historians and conspiracy stories have surfaced about the possibility that J. Edgar allegedly blackmailed his way into keeping his power as head of the FBI for as long as he did. In fact, some people speculate to this day that Edgar not only had incriminating evidence against many of America's political figures like John F. Kennedy, but there have been reports that Edgar's FBI was often involved in illegal wiretapping of phone lines and such; which would allow him to have dirt on almost anyone that crossed him. Whether there's any proof to these allegations, it still remains to be seen. Many of the secret files that J. Edgar had before his passing were all destroyed by his personal secretary. Sure, there's been a few misplaced files found, but nothing concrete that links him to any of the controversy that many historians theorize about him to this day. However, whatever our beliefs may be about this controversial figure, there's no disputing that J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) is arguably one of America's most controversially complex historical figures to have ever existed.
For those wondering about this film, I should warn you that this isn't a biographical movie about J. Edgar's entire life, as the story seems to emphasize more on how he would go on to establish the FBI, and then chronicles the events afterwards leading up to his death. Although, the movie does cover some of the alleged conspiracies surrounding his life, like his alleged homosexuality with his right hand man at the bureau, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), and many of his alleged blackmailing and illegal wiretapping issues to get what he wanted. However, the movie never mentions anything in regards to the conspiracies that he allegedly had a gambling problem, nor does it talk about the allegations regarding the rumors that various mafia families had concrete evidence to blackmail J. Edgar Hoover; which was speculated at the time because of his constant refusal to acknowledge the existence of organized crime in America.
However, from what the film does display of J. Edgar's life, I have to say it's a very powerful portrayal of one of history's most controversially perplex figures. Not only does Clint Eastwood do a great job establishing the tone of this movie early on, but it's almost amazing how well he manages to make such strong character driven stories in all his films. Unlike most directors of today's era, Clint Eastwood always manages to provide a deep introspective into almost any character he chooses to base a movie on; regardless of the film's subject matter. Of course, it certainly helps when you have a very talented lead actor in Leonardo DiCaprio to play the part.
Although, I have to admit that Leonardo DiCaprio looks nothing like J. Edgar Hoover, and even during the scenes when they show DiCaprio, in make up, playing the older version of J. Edgar, he still doesn't quite match up to the physical appearance of the historical figure he portrays. Having said that though, it's not necessarily a bad thing, as many critics have said the same criticism of Colin Firth when he played the starring role in "The King's Speech." However, in spite of that one obstacle, Colin was able to deliver an epic performance truly worthy of an Oscar. And in this movie, all I'm going to say is that I'll damn near surprised if Leonardo isn't nominated for this role. Sure, I'll be the first to admit that this isn't Leonardo's best performance, but it's certainly worthy of accolades by the Academy Awards next year.
As for the rest of the cast, I have to say that I thought everyone played their parts rather well. In fact, the only real criticism that I have is that this movie doesn't go over all the conspiracies surrounding Hoover's life, and it only focuses on certain ones like his alleged homosexuality. Unfortunately, the film doesn't go into as much detail over the controversy of his private life, as there have been various reports of J. Edgar dressing up in drag while soliciting male prostitutes in the past. But then again, that would probably relate back to his alleged connections to the mafia; which this film never mentions. Granted, it doesn't hurt the movie at all, but it just would've been a nice touch to add to the film.
Instead, Clint Eastwood chooses to focus the film on an aspiring FBI agent, who through various illegal methods of blackmailing and wiretapping managed to amass more power than any other citizen in the United States. Over the course of the film, we see that J. Edgar would not only manipulate his way into power, to get whatever means he wanted to achieve his goals, but we would also see the extent of corruption with said power. In one scene for example, we see an old J. Edgar having one of his secretaries take a dictation for a blackmailing letter to someone. Who the letter is for is never revealed in the movie, but what is revealed is that J. Edgar himself admits that nothing in the letter is true, but it's being written rather to gain some sort of strategic means to meet his ends. This scene not only signifies the amount of corruption that the F.B.I. went through during Hoover's tenure, but it's also symbolic for how ruthless J. Edgar was when chasing after whatever he wanted.
Anyway, as the movie suggests at the end, most of J. Edgar's secret files that he allegedly had on various politicians were never found, and it's still subject to debate to this day. However, it's hard to argue against some of the circumstantial evidence that surround his legacy, but then again, how can any of us prove such allegations? After all, many of his secret files were shredded, so perhaps we may never know for sure about how he managed to become the most powerful man in the country; outside of hearsay and conspiracy rumors. Overall, no matter what you're opinion is on this controversial historical figure, I would still highly recommend this movie to anyone that loves biographical films like this. Not only is the story deeply engaging, but Clint Eastwood delivers another solid character driven story that'll immerse any movie fan into it's web. I'd highly recommend it, at a rating of three out of four.