Too hard to crack
J. EDGAR ( M)
Director: Clint Eastwood ( Invictus ) Stars: Leonardo Dicaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas, Judi Dench
A man who knew too much, too hard to get to know
THIS curious biopic of J. Edgar Hoover, the founding director of the FBI, comes down with a mild case of the same affliction that recently blighted The Iron Lady.
Like Margaret Thatcher, Hoover in his prime, which began in the Great Depression and ended shortly before Watergate, was an intensely divisive figure.
Some grudgingly admired him. Others, many others, openly despised him.
And yet, J. Edgar rather daintily sidesteps provoking any of the extreme reactions Hoover freely welcomed throughout his controversial career.
Equally renowned and ridiculed for his megalomaniacal pursuit of what he perceived to be ‘‘ threats to common decency’’, Hoover was a hardliner and perversely proud of it.
To soft- sell the irksome essence of the man is a recurring flaw which denies
J. Edgar much of its potential impact. However, one factor sure to keep interested parties watching is a skilfully nuanced portrayal of Hoover by Leonardo Dicaprio. The famously baby- faced actor plays Hoover across a daunting time span: from his 20s through to his death at 77.
Though often buried beneath several layers of latex jowls, veins and love handles – and it must be said the make- up effects in this film do take some getting used to – Dicaprio never loses his grasp of a notoriously slippery character.
The film’s narrative structure is also something of an acquired taste. All entry and exit points are guarded by Hoover himself: throughout J. Edgar, key events are linked by scenes of the elderly Hoover dictating his memoirs to a passing parade of personal assistants.
It goes without saying the man is not the most reliable of narrators. Just as Hoover forged his career on finding out what others had to hide, there was plenty he needed to keep from public view himself.
Though Hoover ranked homosexuals closely behind communists as ‘‘ enemies of the state’’, the true nature of his close personal relationship with long- time second- in- command Clyde Tolson ( Armie Hammer) was, at the very least, platonically gay.
Now in the 21st century, that’s no big deal. However, during Hoover’s intimidating four- decade reign as America’s selfappointed moral guardian, any media mention of his bond with Tolson would have brought a swift and permanent end.
The best stretches of J. Edgar focus on how Hoover was able to keep this and many other personal secrets locked in the closet.
However, as Hoover was such an expert at covering his tracks – those fabled files vanished within hours of his death – director Clint Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black ( Milk ) are confined to guessing, hinting and hoping we get the drift.
Now showing Village and State Cinemas