Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio
A heavy-set mood will discomfort the viewers of Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar. Portraying the broken memories of an aged John Edgar Hoover, Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay flows with guilt-ridden narratives. As the plot transitions mercilessly between time frames with little warning, this quality of a senior in regret makes the film a psychological character study of the passed Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Leonardo DiCaprio’s convincing role as Hoover edifies this troubling persona. And, to be honest, relaying the story to you is just as troubling. Yet this is what makes J. Edgar a good movie.
By witnessing the major sequences of his life as they spring to his mind, the audience learns about J. Edgar only as he wants you to know him. It begins when Hoover was just a young man and an attempt is made on the life of his boss, Mitchell Palmer. Tom Stern’s beautiful yet daunting cinematography of Washington D.C.’s evening landscape reminds the audience of current global issues as the city burns under multiple terrorist attacks.
Indeed, just as this terror is set in the background at the movie’s outset, the image impresses itself in the back of our minds throughout the film’s duration. And no matter how unethical Hoover’s tactics show to be, we can’t help but agree with him. As such, his arguments against his opponents stress one unnerving fact: that war can, at any time, hit home.
Many of the memory scenes recount Hoover’s triumphant cases. There is an ongoing narrative concerning the political kidnapping of a wealthy aviator’s infant son. Hoover is diligent to remind his peers that the federal government must up the ante on its crime fighting strategy. As this particular case pans out tragically, Hoover’s message gloats an unfortunate reality. Toward the conclusion, Eastwood choreographs a beautiful montage sequence of Hoover’s psyche: “when morals decline, and good men do nothing, evil flourishes.” Case after case, Hoover proves to be not only ruthless against crime, but a social visionary.
Although he is steadfast against crime, Hoover is no hero. He is impatient, jealous when others are credited and even willing to taint the news. A famous example is the hunt and killing of John Dillinger. Hearing about Melvin Purvis’ success, Hoover is indignant and orders that the honoured agent be terminated from the FBI, so to take the credit himself. In the end, Hoover had taken truth as a commodity to exploit and promoted justice in the FBI synonymously with his own name.
DiCaprio transcends drama and moves into the territory of the educational. His depiction is simply convincing as the Director of the FBI. He is handsome, yet awkward. He demands respect, yet is vulnerable to ridicule. His role makes it clear to the audience that talking about Hoover is as problematic as the man himself. Such is the reason that describing the film’s plot is as relevant as analyzing DiCaprio’s performance.
Embodying Hoover’s dispersed memories, DiCaprio does history a service by acting against the his egoistic and deluded intent: Hoover was no hero, but a flawed, yet passionate, human being. I judge the film to be the same.