If there’s only one reason to see Clint Eastwood’s new film, “J. Edgar,” it’s to be totally blown away by Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance in the title role. But there are many more to behold in this insightful biopic about one of the most famous/infamous characters in American history.
For nearly five decades, J. Edgar Hoover was considered by some to be the most powerful man in the world. Afflicted by paranoia and an intense need to be recognized as heroic, Hoover never reconciled with his inner self. His mother fueled a hidden sense of shame, which tortured his psyche until the day he died.
Eastwood examines the reasons behind Hoover’s obsession to be in control. Illegal wiretappings, blackmailing and megalomanical thinking often marred his accomplishments. It was Hoover who insisted that the U.S. needed an armed police force and a centralized database for fingerprinting. He actually was the force behind modern forensics. These bold ideas were instrumental in bringing down Bruno Hauptmann in the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s baby in 1934.
In a script penned by Dustin Lance Black (“Milk”) it becomes evident that Hoover was protected and loved by, seemingly, only three individuals: his mother, his soul mate and secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), who kept and destroyed his secrets. Hoover’s forte was making enemies.
In a climate when communism was considered a disease and racism was commonplace, homosexuality was beyond reprehensible. Hoover’s mother (Judi Dench) commented to him at an early age that she would rather he be dead than gay. So, when his chaste relationship with his longtime partner, bureau deputy Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), never went beyond the closet, we gain insight into Hoover’s immense inner turmoil.
Eastwood knows how to pull his audience into places they’ve never been. Once they’ve arrived, it’s an overwhelming experience. He’s masterful at getting into his characters’ souls, exposing their flaws as well as their triumphs. And he always makes the journey as astounding to watch as it is to hear. No one scores better than Eastwood.
I never really got onto the DiCaprio bandwagon until I witnessed his outstanding performance in “The Departed.” This is an actor who has evolved into one of the best performers in film history. Martin Scorsese saw it, Eastwood saw it, and you’ll see it in “J. Edgar” — the performance of a lifetime.
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