By Adele MacGregor
J. Edgar Hoover was one of the most notable figures in American History. During his time as head of the FBI he kept files on hundreds of American citizens including Robert and John F. Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr Martin Luther King, threatening any individual who dared to cross him or appeared to be participating in “un-American activities”. Written by Dustin Lance Black, this biopic stars Leonardio DiCaprio as both the younger and the elder J. Edgar, in a film that spans several decades.
As the founding director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover was a man with a famously fierce anti-communism stance and a firm belief in the deportation of “aliens” and “communist radicals”, which resulted in notions of xenophobia and misinformed prejudice. His questionable methods included wiretapping and fear mongering, which were widespread in America during Hoover’s early years and were not unlike the Islamaphobia evident in America since September 2001 and George Bush’s PATRIOT Act. Although the threat of communism remained throughout Hoover’s career, the threat became foreign rather than domestic and Hoover began to earn a reputation as a lonely and paranoid man, living only to work.
The film also examines Hoover’s private life as an alleged closeted homosexual, alluding to a romantic relationship with his right hand man, Clyde Tolson, played by Armie Hammer (The Social Network, Gossip Girl). The relationship with his secretary Helen Gandy, played by Naomi Watts (King Kong) is also examined – she remained his closest friend and ally up until his death in 1972.
Hoover’s growing distrust of everyone in his vicinity and the behaviour which gave him a reputation as a tyrant is slowly revealed as the film unfolds. DiCaprio expertly captures the nature of Hoover’s personality, from an ambitious young man looking to serve his country and its people, to an angry and bitter old man whose severe anxiety and suspicion has warped his personality and all but driven any compassion that was once there out of his heart.
J. Edgar includes scenes in which Hoover calls Dr Martin Luther King America’s “greatest domestic threat” and makes accusations of “un-American activities” towards everyone from cleaning staff to the President of the United States. Documenting the 47 years of Hoover’s career, the film holds significant focus on the infamous case of Charles Lindbergh, a renowned aviator and explorer, whose child was kidnapped and held for ransom. This later became known as “The Crime of the Century”. Hoover played a significant part in the investigation of the case, insisting on using the country’s best experts on crime investigation and pushing for advancements in forensic science and technology such as fingerprinting analysis.
As the film progresses, the audience watches American history unfold and the influence of Hoover on each event from the threat of gangsters and Bolsheviks to the Civil Rights Movement and Kennedy assassination, all the while capturing Hoover’s career with the Federal Bureau Of Investigation in a well scripted, extensively researched and wonderfully acted feature.
For those interested in American history and politics the film is a must see and for others seeking an engaging and intelligent film, J. Edgar is wonderfully accomplished. Thoughtful and intense, with a script that is fresh and exciting, it succeeds in detailing Hoover’s life and career, which remains entwined in recent history and other momentous events in America.
9 OUT OF 10