John Edgar Hoover (DiCaprio) was only 29 when he became director of the Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI), and he ruled supreme until his death in 1972, holding eight US presidents in the palm of his hand with his notorious files of personal secrets. But he also had loyal friends, including his secretary Helen (Watts) and his right-hand man Clyde (Hammer). As a young man, his mother (Dench) instilled in him a hatred of liberalism and homosexuality, so his enemies included Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy (Donovan) and himself.
Black's script focusses on just two decades: the 1930s and the 1960s. And this structure cleverly shows the man's steadfast tenacity and refusal to be distracted from his earnest quest to cleanup the country. Arguably the most powerful American of the 20th century, Hoover was also a deeply closeted homosexual who, as portrayed here, never accepted the truth about himself or his real feelings toward Clyde. This self-loathing led to increasing paranoia as he subverted the law with extortion and dirty counter-intelligence operations.
The film's true heart is Clyde, his longed-for lover. But we're more than an hour in before this begins to emerge. Events are recounted in lively, entertaining ways, from the Lindbergh kidnapping to the Kennedy assassination, but we can tell there's a bigger issue gurgling under the surface. And while the script continually touches on it, Eastwood seems to shy away truly confronting the elephant in the room. Clearly this is intentional, depicting Hoover's relentless refusal to violate his mother's relief that her son isn't a "daffodil".
But surging passion, however submerged, would engage us much more acutely.
DiCaprio and Hammer are terrific, even managing to show some pathos in their awkward geriatric make-up (why not have 60-something actors play the older men?). Watts and Dench are solid but sidelined, while a parade of strong cameos keeps things colourful even with virtually monochromatic, but still eye-catching, production design. It's a striking portrait of a man who had all the power in the world, yet never actually lived his own life. And without any real emotional connection, it's depressing rather than moving.
Run time: 137 mins
In Theaters: Friday 11th November 2011
Box Office USA: $37.3M
Box Office Worldwide: $37.3M
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production compaines: Imagine Entertainment, Malpaso Productions, Wintergreen Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 43%
Fresh: 95 Rotten: 125
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Clint Eastwood
Screenwriter: Dustin Lance Black
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover, Geoff Pierson as Mitchell Palmer, Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy, Josh Hamilton as Robert Irwin, Judi Dench as Anna Marie Hoover, Gunner Wright as Dwight Eisenhower, Kaitlyn Dever as Palmer's Daughter, Adam Driver as Walter Lyle, Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson, Ed Westwick as Agent Smith, Jessica Hecht as Emma Goldman, Josh Lucas as Charles Lindbergh, Dermot Mulroney as Colonel Schwarzkopf, Denis O'Hare as Albert Osborne, Lea Thompson as Lela Rogers, Sadie Calvano as Edgar's Niece
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