J. Edgar 2011 ★★

This review reportedly contains spoilers.
I can handle the truth.

This review reportedly contains spoilers.

I'm split on it. I thought Leonardo DiCaprio did an excellent job of acting. He is very good. Hoover was certainly a powerful and complex man with an interesting and complex life story. The movie was at its best depicting the human side of Hoover. Not so much on the law enforcement side and even less on the political side. A great portion of the film is devoted to the Lindbergh baby kidnapping case. The detective work is presented as fairly solid, but then there are later questions over whether the accused suspect was guilty. This seemed to give a muddled message overall of the significance of the entire event.

And as a contrast to the Lindbergh kidnapping, the assassination of President John Kennedy is dismissed in one brief one sided phone call. It's a bizarre omission especially because there was a fascinating earlier scene between Hoover and president's brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Some attention is paid to Hoover's fascination with civil rights leader Martin Luther King, but King's assassination (spoiler?) is treated with even less import than JFK's. And unless I missed it, RFK's death wasn't mentioned or indicated at all.

Hoover was the nation's top law enforcement official at the time of all those crimes, so it's beyond perplexing that one kidnapping of a celebrities child could warrant so much screen time, and the killings of three major historical figures would get such short shrift.

It seems that Hoover's biggest misdeeds in life were collecting tawdry information and exaggerating his own role. And his biggest contributions were making a filing system and firing guys with mustaches. The movie seems to side with Hoover a majority of the time, so the rare times he is portrayed as a villain seem weak and incongruous with the rest.

Of course, Hoover had a few other secrets as well. This spoiler section is marked PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL!

Much of the discussion of this movie is in regards to the old age makeup. Specifically, how Lea Thompson's old age makeup in Back To The Future was weirdly prescient. Yikes. I'll take "Distracting Cameo" for $200, Alex. And she is BAD too. She has the briefest of appearances as a woman talking to Hoover at a restaurant, but she overacts so wildly even trying to be subtle.

I got used to Hoover's old age makeup fairly quickly. My only problem with it was that it didn't seem to change over the time of the film. He never aged in his old age makeup. Even when his health declines, he looks the same, right up to the end. There were only really 2 looks: young and old. There never seemed to be any attempt to show anything in between. I thought Hoover's secretary's makeup was very good though, some of the best old age makeup I've seen. Unfortunately Hoover's companion Clyde didn't get as lucky. His makeup is just terrible. In addition, when they are young, Hoover looks older than Clyde, but in the old age makeup, Hoover looks younger. Clyde's old age makeup is just never convincing and borders on distracting most of the time. And Hoover doesn't seem to gain weight over the course of his lifetime. His old age makeup makes him look jowly, but all the long shots he looks like the same body type as the young Hoover. It's a weird oversight because the script twice makes reference to his weight.

The homosexuality and transvestism is there, but very restrained. Hoover is presented more as a asexual figure than anything else. There is a single kiss, and is not romantic in the least. It's more of a humorous punctuation to a tense scene. And Hoover dressing in a dress is one brief scene that is about him mourning the absence of his mother.

So, I liked DiCaprio's performance very much, the movie has a fair share of interesting scenes and nice moments, and it's the complex story of a complex person. But glossing over such huge historical events like JFK, RFK, and King's assassinations is just weird to me. It makes me wonder what's the point in having such a rich story and doing so little with it. Maybe Hoover's life is too big and shrouded in too much secrecy for one film to do it all. I give Clint Eastwood credit for trying, and as a human drama it mostly succeeds due to the great lead acting performance. But as interesting history it's pretty weak.

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