Review: J. Edgar
FBI Director John Edgar Hoover was an interesting man, one that many may not truly understand. However it is hard not to appreciate how he changed things in the bureau for the better. This Clint Eastwood directed film focuses more on the man as opposed to what he did, it focuses on his relationships with his mother, his loyal secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) and his longtime companion Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer.) There are a lot of sides to Hoover that this film taps into, such as how people view him as the man responsible for making our law enforcement as good as it is today. It also goes into great detail about how Hoover would frequently stop at nothing and go through anyone to achieve his goals. He was a complicated man, but a very influential man all at the same time making for an average film that benefits from great performances and direction.
The plot obviously centers around J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) as it chronicles his life. The film jumps back and forth between Hoover telling his story to young agents about the origins of the FBI then it jumps to what he is talking about. Hoover starts his story in 1919, where his boss at the time survived an assassination attempt. Hoover hurries to the scene and is surprised to see how primitive the investigation is being handled and in that moment is when he realized the importance of criminal science moving forward. At his work he meets a young woman by the name of Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) that he takes out on a date to the Library of Congress and shows her the card system catalog that he had created. He explains that he wishes that one day he could do something for law enforcement similar, only involving an individual's finger prints as a source of identification. Hoover then tries to romance Gandy, but his attempts are shut down as she takes her career above all else. Hoover takes it as an opportunity to make her his personal secretary, to which she agrees. After the attempt on his bosses life, he is then put in charge as the new anti-radical division where he begins to compile a list of such suspected radicals. Due to his diligence, several Justice Departments raid suspected radical groups which then leads to such groups being deported. Hoover is then made to be the director of the Justice Department's Bureau of Investigation.
Hoover then begins to reshape the bureau by hiring new people, with more of a scientific mind. Throughout the film, it shows Hoover's displeasure in the public's general acceptance and celebration of criminals. In re-shaping the Bureau, he makes sure that his new team has a certain look that tends to get plenty of pre-existing members fired. Hoover is then introduced to Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) at a club and is impressed with the way he handles himself. He then later interviews Tolson and hires him despite his lack of interest to stay in the bureau for an extended time. Tolson does not provide much help in piecing together who is a criminal or not, but he helps with the aesthetics of creating a new bureau. He also provides Hoover with a solid confidant, which blossoms into something else entirely even through conflicted feelings. After Hoover assembles his team, the Bureau then begins to hunt down high profile gangsters and bank robbers such as John Dillinger. President Roosevelt then asks the bureau to investigate the Lindbergh kidnapping as it has caught the media's attention.
Clint Eastwood is a terrific director, despite how his films can be a bit too dark at times (not in tone, but actual lighting.) Leonardo DiCaprio also does a terrific job in his role as J. Edgar Hoover, despite how ridicoulous he looks when the film portrays him as an old man. The mask they place on DiCaprio is about the same kind you would see on some child for Halloween, it looks terrible but thanks to DiCaprio's ability as an actor you never lose the sense of the character. Armie Hammer does a solid job as Clyde Tolson as it can be tough for an up and coming actor to star alongside someone as accomplished as DiCaprio, but he does hold his own. Naomi Watts also does a good job in portraying a career focused woman, who puts her social life as a non-existent second. While the film does benefit from terrific talent in front and behind the camera, the main issues are within the pacing, bloated script and sometimes overdrawn out dialog. When matched up with Eastwood's other films, it is clearly one of his worst films.