I watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s most recent project, J. Edgar, the other day for the first time. I’ve been on a little bit of a Leo kick to prepare for seeing the re-release of Titanic (a role he created when he was only twenty-two!), and also on a political biography spree, having watched The Iron Lady last week.
Like I wrote last week in my review of that Meryl Streep vehicle, J. Edgar also surprised me immensely. I think it was one of the very basic premises of the movie about which I was unaware—screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (of Milk fame) took some common evidence about Hoover’s life and made him a closeted gay man.
But we don’t know for sure. That, coupled with Hoover’s lifelong companion’s probable homosexuality, made the movie terribly sad.
First, the plot. The movie invents the idea that the elderly Hoover is transcribing his memoirs to a younger FBI agent. This device is used to flash from the 1960’s present to Hoover’s past as a young man living with his mother to one of the most powerful men in the American government.
Hoover built his career on being anti-Community and anti-radical. The most prominent case on which he worked was on the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, often called the trial of the century. Using the American’s people sympathy for this case, Hoover took this momentum to build up the FBI’s status and jurisdiction over branches of government.
Certainly Hoover did a great deal for the expansion of the FBI and the pursuit of criminals in this country. However, he was also notorious for his blackmailing techniques, particularly against newly-elected presidents (Hoover was the FBI under eight different leaders). The movie claims—although this is not substantiated—that a leader sent to Martin Luther King, Jr. blackmailing him against accepting the Nobel Peace Prize was sent by Hoover.
An unlikeable man as Bureau chief, Hoover was an even more difficult and complex man in his personal life. He lived with his mother—who seemed to be obsessed with his success (and also British. Dame Judy Dench could not perfect an American accent) until he was quite old. The movie also claims that despite his emotional and romantic attachment to Clyde Tolson—Hoover’s number two man in the bureau—that the two were celibate their entire lives, and barely even kissed. A sad life for Hoover’s dearly devoted, Clyde.
What did you think of J. Edgar?