J. Edgar Hoover is one of the most iconic American figures of the last century, and a polarizing one: crime-fighting superpatriot or blackmailing bully? Cross-dressing creep or lonely hero? We get lots of each in J. Edgar, the epic biopic from Clint Eastwood (who, having played good bad guys and bad good guys, knows lots about moral ambiguity). Leonardo DiCaprio has the starring role, and thanks to loads of latex effectively embodies Hoover for the more than 40 years that he ran the FBI. On the trail of bomb-throwing “commie” anarchists in the ’20s and mobsters in the ’30s, Hoover sees America as perpetually under threat from dark and deadly forces. Decades later, and increasingly paranoid, he imagines Martin Luther King Jr. as just one more menace to the America he loves.
But the petty and vengeful bureaucrat who wiretapped his political enemies was the same man who defied the skeptics and pioneered the science of forensic analysis in the early ’30s — which proved indispensable in solving the notorious Lindbergh kidnapping. He was also a lion when it came to fighting Congress for better funding for the bureau (even if he had to lie in the process). Nothing if not complex, the fussy and morally uptight Hoover was also one of the loneliest men in America. Dominated by a homophobic mother (Judi Dench), the closeted Hoover had a decades-long affair of the heart with his deputy chief, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer, The Social Network). It is unclear if the relationship was ever consummated, but Edgar is a love story as much as anything, and that repressed romance is at the core of the film’s complex, time-shifting narrative.
DiCaprio, usually something of a boy-man, is brilliant and convincing here, as is Hammer. Naomi Watts is flawless as the woman who was his loyal secretary for four decades. And Dench is quietly terrifying as a lethal “mommie dearest.” Fascinating, well filmed, and surprisingly touching, Edgar brings a half-century of recent American history to life in the process of delivering a balanced portrait of a much-loathed and undeniably tragic figure. This is yet another excellent film from Eastwood. M
J. Edgar ★ ★ ★ ★
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Judy Dench
R – 137 minutes
Continues at the Capitol & Westshore
It’s time for a stiff drink, and what’s better than a martini? They always taste best at a classy bar like Veneto, Clive’s, or the Bengal, but handmade at home can also be great. Use a quality gin like Plymouth or Bombay Sapphire (or Victoria if you can afford it). And for an intriguing variation, leave the Vermouth in the cabinet and try a few drops of Ouzo instead. Bottoms up!