J. Edgar
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J. Edgar

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To paraphrase a rather famous saying some men are born to greatness, others have it thrust upon them while others grab it with both hands. In the case of J. Edgar Hoover, the first and most infamous Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the latter category applied aptly. The film, ‘J. Edgar’ chronicles his life during the years he held that position of power that transcended the politicians and crime bosses that surrounded him. The scope of the film covers both the professional and personal aspects of his controversial life from his time in the Justice Department to his part in the founding of the modern F.B.I. through to the years late in his life when he still loomed over the American scene. The movie was the latest installment in exceptionally diversified oeuvre of modern day Renaissance man, Clint Eastwood. Albeit this is not his finest work but for a man of such incredible talents as Eastwood his off days produced a piece of cinema that exhibited finer craftsmanship than the combine output of most other members of the Director’s Guild of America. The comment that this is somewhat below his usual degree of excellence is only by a slim margin and then only when compared to his many great films. The movie lacks the usual drive and laser like focus of works like ‘Million Dollar Baby’ of ‘Unforgiven’. One possible reason is in the case of this movie the nature of the story was conducive to highlighting the talents of the leading man, Leonardo DiCaprio, rather than the stylistic elements of the film. The story is also such that much of the controversy inherent in the personal and professional life of Hoover tended to draw the focus away from the crime fighting public persona of the man lingering on some of the more salacious aspects of his private personality. This was one of the most complicated and feared men in American history and any endeavor to bring it to the screen in roughly two and a quarter hours is going to challenge the abilities of even one of the greatest filmmakers in the craft. The film has its faults but then again the subject fought his entire life to overcome and conceal his own.

The film starts end the end with DiCaprio sporting some incredibly applied prosthetic make-up in order to play an elderly J. Edgar Hoover. He has a writer be shown in. Hoover wants to have the origins of the’ F.B.I.’ Detailed so the public can remember his greatest achievement properly. With the make-up removed we go back in time to 1919 and a young Hoover was working for the Justice Department during a time criminals were gaining power and organization. After a failed attempt to murder his boss, the United States’ Attorney General, Hoover was revolved at the primitive and disorganized way the police handled the investigation. It occurred to him that the only way to handle crime was through a well trained, professional agency whose jurisdiction was able to cross State and municipal boundaries. The core of his envisioned agency was reliance on modern methods in criminology and forensic sciences. Two women are important to him at this point, his beloved mother, Anna Marie (Judi Dench) and Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts). Hoover shows off a card cataloging system to her that could identify citizens much in the same way as the Dewey Decimal system organizes books in a library. Although Grady rebuffs his romantic overtures she does agree to become his personal assistant. She would serve as his secretary and confidant for over half a century. Soon a bright lawyer, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), is added to Hoover’s cadre. Tolson adds his legal expertise to the new Bureau Hoover is creating and becomes a close friend to Hoover. The film solidly depicts how Hoover’s rise to power was fueled by highly publicized cases such as the shooting of John Dillinger and the use of his new investigative techniques in the apprehension of Bruno Hauptmann for the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Charles Lindberg’s infant son. Hoover became the public face of the modern police force as exemplified by the F.B.I. As the scope of his influence grew he would take on anyone he felt was a threat to the country or his Bureau. He was known for his stacks of secret files that could blackmail any public figure. Even men of normally untouchable stations as the President of the United States was not immune to Hoover’s dreaded dossiers as Richard Nixon would discover.

Leonardo DiCaprio has grown into one of the industry’s most versatile actors. From his start in 1992 in the TV sit-com ‘Growing Pains’ through his romantic leading man phase in ‘Titanic’ his career and abilities has grown at an amazing rate. Hr has become an ‘A’ list actor in high demand. The thing is the man can act and taking Hoover through the decades is a testament to his intrinsic ability to put on a character as easily as donning an old high school sweat shirt. This is not to say his roles are easy to portray; he just make it look that way. He has mastered the primary function of an actor in making the audience believe he is the character he inhabits. Clint Eastwood has succeeded in a variety of careers running the gamut from politician, composer, actor and director. He usually has a razor sharpness to his films that is absent here. The story is softened and diluted which considering the subject is surprising. It was long believed that Hoover was a closeted albeit chase homosexual but that aspect of his life is relatively minor in light of his perchance for striking fear in the hearts of some of the most powerful and influential men in the world. Hoover survived as presidents came and went. Eastwood allowed the story to meander rather than keeping it on track. It still remains as a fantastic vehicle for showcasing DiCaprio but didn’t do much to display Eastman’s legacy.

Posted 02/17/12

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