J. Edgar is a biopic directed by Clint Eastwood that simultaneously documents the life of J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo Di Caprio) and the creation of the FBI. Hoover manages to transform a small bureau of intelligence into the powerful, nationwide office that it is now by manipulating American fears towards communism. However, the film’s main focus is not on this development but the destructive, oppressive effect the idea of serving your country has on Hoover’s own happiness.
J. Edgar could easily have become another propagandistic film about the development of the American political system that criticised all cultures and systems that differ from America’s. IMDB describes J. Edgar Hoover as a character who was ‘feared and admired, reviled and revered’, a perfect authoritarian figure to play the protagonist of another Hollywood blockbuster in our time of fear and need for a strong government. From the synopsis one might envision this film being akin to Public Enemies or other fast paced, highly strung dramas. In reality it has a documentary feel in its slow pace and delicate attention to detail. This technique allows Eastwood to really build up to the climax at the end which can easily be described as a twist. It closes the focus down from a national one to a very personal, emotional one as the audience are forced to realise the emotional cost of J. Edgar’s dedication to his country. This film is not about the ultimate success of such famous historical figures but about the ultimate suffering and failure of their private relationships, sexuality and happiness under the weight of repression.
The trailer for J. Edgar provides a case in point example of the manipulation of the subject matter of films by advertising teams. The fast-paced piano music and snapshots of rioting, explosions, illegal activities, well-known political figures and passionate dialogue don’t reflect this film’s true style. Edgar’s concluding line in the trailer, “It’s time this nation learnt the difference between hero and villain. Even great men can be corrupted,” indicates that it may indeed be a propagandistic American film. However, you will find that even the most expectant viewer will be pleasantly surprised by the final scene of J. Edgar. It could even be said that the trailer adds to one of the main points of the film: that you can’t trust anyone’s representation of an event or series of events as they are all snapshots melded together in a way that suits each individual. I won’t give any more away but this realisation comes across effectively over the course of the film.
Di Caprio, Armie Hammer (Clyde Tolson) and Judy Dench (Anna Marie Hoover) are all spectacular in their roles. The subtle and complex love each of these characters have for one another manages to outshine the intrigue of the true biographical plotline. This film is emotionally heart-wrenching and even the most cynical viewer would struggle to leave it without feeling regret at the repression forced upon J. Edgar by society. Although it is a long film and at points slow, it is definitely worth concentrating on for the bleak and stark realisations that it brings with its conclusion.