Certain questions will forever remain unanswered. No time-leaping cinematic journey through the complex life of one of America’s most powerful yet complicated figures of history will ever put all the pieces together. We’re left to wonder, as perhaps well we should for the sake of ongoing argument and analysis. While this latest depiction surely rests incomplete in its overall life coverage– most do after all– the retelling of such infamous though calculatedly unproven historical details has made its way onto the big screen in a film very well worth your time and consideration. Simply put, go see J. Edgar.
Some unrealistic makeup notwithstanding, Leonardo DiCaprio pulls off a solidly believable portrayal of the enigmatic bulldog who for almost a half-century ran the department that grew to become during his reign the Federal Bureau of Investigation. While Director Clint Eastwood necessarily ignores many significant years and events, the history he does choose to cover maintains focus on the man of mystery who shaped and influenced– by means both good and not so good– federal law enforcement in this country.
There is no other J. Edgar Hoover. We already knew this. Still, as with so many high-ranking government officials, the daily struggle ensues between the personal and the public man. In Hoover’s case this may very well have been more than the average struggle, as Eastwood’s film steadily examines, and which no doubt draws us to the ticket window. Perhaps even more than his personal files for blackmail comes the unresolved fascination with Hoover’s sexuality. While the film unambiguously delves into this subject, it does so with a surprising amount of respect and restraint. In other words, the recipe is light on sexual behavior, heavy on conflicted emotional intimacy, all intertwined with another day on the job. His relationships are strong yet difficult, with his mother, with his colleagues, and certainly with the man he “needed.” This we see and see well.
Critics will call J. Edgar a disappointment– and they have— but as usual I believe in coming to my own conclusion. So should you. From unconvincing cameo portrayals of RFK and Nixon, to poignant moments with Clyde Tolson, to telling scenes with Hoover’s mother and the loyal presence of “Miss Gandy” throughout, all peppered with historical tragedy and even some splashes of Hoover-style wit and humor, this film demands our attention from start to finish. In the end, we’re left with that sense of wonder. If only Miss Gandy hadn’t been so faithful as to destroy all those personal files, I say! But of course, she did. Thanks to her, we’ll never know. Thanks to Clint Eastwood, we know a little more.