By Miles Baxter
J.Edgar takes us through the life of former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), and spares us none of the gritty details. No matter how you end up feeling about Hoover’s less-than-legitimate way of running the FBI, it cannot be denied that this look at Hoover’s life leaves us with a great piece of cinema.
From opening to end the lighting shows us a cold, pale, calculating atmosphere. This seems to be reflection of Hoover himself, being someone who seems to see only the numbers and facts. After taking Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), who will soon become his secretary and close confidant, he proposes on their first night out simply because it would work.
The film takes a look at a man who himself maybe too calculating to be aptly trusted with protection of the country. He hides secrets and stretches to the truth for “the greater good” but as the story progresses, it’s difficult to see the merit in it.
Hoover’s life naturally covers the setup of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
It’s just great to see the initial steps taken to form the FBI, and Hoover is in an office that needs him. It’s a spot that requires someone who will do what needs to be done. And Hoover fits the ticket all too well.
As the story progresses we see several instances that give us insight into what shaped Hoover into the man he became.
Barely ten minutes pass before the bombing of [Alexander] Mitchell Palmer’s (Geoff Pierson) home was depicted, with Hoover explaining that he was at the scene of the crime to witness the apathy towards the seeking of justice around him. Hoover, has developed a mindset declaring war on the Bolshevik communists, a mindset that will last long passed the point of communism being an immediate threat.
We see a minor “probable communist threat to the country” escape deportation due to legal technicalities. Here, Hoover has taken his first steps into seeing obtaining actual evidence as an unfortunate inconvenience.
The film reaches a place of a seeming condoling of “necessary rule bending” for a time. But by the end so many rules have been bent that we’re left with a situation so muddled that its hard to tell what is still morally correct.
The story, naturally, covers the Lindberg kidnapping and the total involvement of the FBI. Hoover asks for the justice spotlight, and gets it, and we’re presented with the FBI developing it’s “centralized system.”
An especially powerful scene while Hoover watches the broadcast news of the Lindberg while sitting next to his crying mother, shows insight into his drive to achieve justice, even if that means breaking laws. His mother weeping seems to say “Please, stop this,” while Hoover says with his grimace, “I’m trying.”
When the baby is found dead, his mother can barely find the strength to mutter out, “His blood is on your hands.”
The alleged homosexual relationship between Hoover and his right hand man Clyde Tolson, which eventually becomes the main focus. Some really powerful scenes involve their strange relationship, and the film masterfully intertwines this relationship with his professional career. In this way J. Edgar shows a great perspective on both the professional and personal Hoover.
One of the final scenes where Hoover desperately tries to defend his wire taps, ends with him questioning whether or not he can trust Tolson. It draws out a deep emotion to see that all he has left is this defensive, untrusting attitude that his position has forced down on him.
Hoover is summed up by a final scene of him spouting out all the dangers that America faces and the choices that must be made to protect it, as we’re shown a series of images from the war, and other threats to daily American life. “America the Beautiful” plays while we sit and watch acts of violence and terrorism, and for brief second, we understand.
Whether you end up seeing merit in Hoover’s action by the end or not, J. Edgar is a fantastically made film. While seeming to slightly lose focus near the end, this loss is a mere byproduct of the ambitious goal of trying to capture the very essence of what Hoover stood for. J. Edgar shows the choice and consequences of protecting the nation.
J. Edgar also serves to show that great movies are still made.