Published: Thursday, November 10, 2011
Updated: Friday, November 11, 2011 12:11
"Sometimes, you need to bend the rules a little to keep your country safe" is an impressionistic quote of J. Edgar Hoover's regarding his own morals. Leonardo DiCaprio delivers it firmly with a hint of doubt as Hoover himself would have while portraying him in Clint Eastwood's latest effort "J. Edgar."
Anybody who knows anything about Hoover knows that he established the F.B.I. and reigned as Director of it for eight total presidencies. Eastwood does a considerable job of delving into who he actually was. He was Communist-obsessed and over-emotional as well as paranoid and socially awkward. He held firm opinions on his personal values, which couldn't be changed once they were established. He wore suits with his initials imprinted on the jacket pocket and spent countless days at the horse racetrack with Clyde Tolsen, leading to the implication of his homosexuality. He believed that the citizens of the United States of America should be scared for their lives of a Communist invasion not from outside the country, but from within it.
This opinion was firmly instilled within him after the 1919 anarchist bombings in the United States. Hoover was on the scene minutes after Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer barely avoided being killed by a bomb that went off just outside his house, conveniently placed right next to his rocking chair. After witnessing this chaos as well as the inability of the police to uncover any forensic details in the crime scene amidst a remarkable vintage Washington D.C., Hoover's opinion was set. He was sure that the United States was extremely vulnerable and needed to establish itself as a strong nation which could easily repel Communism and terrorism without widespread fear.
DiCaprio clearly drew inspiration from Robert De Niro before portraying Hoover, as he ages about a half a century throughout the film similarly to De Niro in "Once Upon a Time in America". Clyde Tolsen, the Associate Director of the FBI during Hoover's reign (and also Hoover's right-hand man), is played by Armie Hammer, who also for a young man ages quite well. Eastwood constantly hints at the chance that there was a homosexual relationship between Hoover and Tolsen, and this sexual innuendo climaxes at the most abrupt time possible.
If the viewer expects Eastwood to show more of J. Edgar's earlier life to explain his clearly faulted state of mind, then they should be ready to sit down for six hours considering Hoover's life was a conglomerate of his own delusions. Eastwood does a good job of picking and choosing the most important events of Hoover's reign, including his help in establishing the Lindbergh kidnapping law and his relationship with his dying mother. However, he could not remember concrete details of these situations by the end of his life, such as whether or not he personally made an arrest during certain cases. At this time, Hoover was convinced that the greatest domestic threat to the U.S. was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Even after having a stroke, Tolsen helped Hoover think clearly later in life.
Armie Hammer is a clear up-and-coming star. His performance in this film and his portrayal of both of the Winklevoss twins in "The Social Network" are going to ultimately lead to him being a blockbuster leading actor. However good DiCaprio and Hammer were, Naomi Watts portrayal of Hoover's assistant Helen Candy is rather forgettable. Even considering that, this may be Eastwood's best work since "Million Dollar Baby" in 2004. At two and a half hours it does not drag at all, and a lot of the old fashioned pronunciations that only Eastwood would know will undoubtedly bring about laughter in the viewer. He even references two of the more popular James Cagney films of the 1930s - "The Public Enemy" and "G Men" - which will impress some film junkies.
The bottom line is, if you're a big time Hollywood director (i.e. Clint Eastwood, Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese) and you want to make a movie where the main character is at least somewhat delusional, you hire Leonardo DiCaprio. Eastwood learned this after giving us some questionable acting performances over the years (the whole supporting cast of "Gran Torino," for example). This film has considerable historic and artistic value and will likely be praised by the Academy Awards, so it is definitely worth seeing.