Films | J. Edgar – Movie Review

J. Edgar – Movie Review

Posted by FATEMA H.KAGALWALA on January 20, 2012 | 1 Comment

PRODUCER – Clint Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Robert Lorenz
DIRECTOR – Clint Eastwood
WRITER – Dustin Lance Black
CAST – Clint Eastwood, Naomi Watts, Armie Hammer
MUSIC – Clint Eastwood

American history remembers J. Edgar Hoover as a man with a checkered life. Almost single-handedly responsible for building the Federal Bureau of Investigation, America’s premier intelligence institution of world-wide repute, Hoover largely remains a man who used his power illegally and beyond the jurisdiction of the organisation.

Clint Eastwood’s biopic chooses to portray a tender picture of the man, underplaying the ethical questions that surrounded his tenure of service with the US Government but not necessarily underscoring his achievements either. While, this may be doing a disservice to the records of history, it also personalizes the account of a man as important as he was seen as notorious. Within this personal and tinted framework Eastwood and his writer Dustin Lance Black tell a story of a determined man focused towards vindicating justice but not too unwilling to tweak rules for personal glory. The same man is also a mamma’s boy fighting a sexual dilemma, he loves toting guns, being the all-American hero and is in love with his deputy but unable to face it. Hoover’s homosexuality and his relationship with Clyde Tolson, his deputy, is a suggestion rather than proven in history but in making it a concrete aspect of his personality Eastwood sketches an endearing portrayal of male bonding and companionship.

The film focuses entirely on Hoover’s FBI career taking us through the various chapters of his professional life in a back and forth weave strung together by Hoover’s voice over dictating his memoirs. This technique reserved for thrillers works equally well in drama while we decode Hoover’s life layer by layer and sink into engaging with what unfolds.

While there is an inconsistency in dealing with America’s pre and post-war politics, the film, like any other Eastwood film, draws out the man behind the drama and lays him out, human and vulnerable for our consumption. It is the sterling performances of the main leads that hold the film together. Leonardo Dicaprio shuttles between a young and tense Hoover to an old Hoover, almost at the end of his time, with a superb ease and control. The devastatingly handsome Armie Hammer, last seen in The Social Network, supports Dicaprio’s performance with a solidarity as sincere as Tolson’s must have been to Hoover. Naomi Watts as Miss Gandy, the loyal and trusted secretary of Hoover for fifty-four years, is relegated to the background after an exciting start. Yet the actress manages to hold her place in the triumvirate with a silent conviction and dependability that has almost become a hallmark of her performances.

Like all his films earlier, Clint Eastwood turns this biopic into an engaging human drama about morals, values, relationships and human vulnerabilities. He does not judge nor is he cynical and in this lack of cynicism he manages to portray a man of a dubitable past we can view with equanimity. Eastwood also provides music to his biopic and what we get is a subtle and simple score helping the movie along gently, never over-powering, never underscoring, never diminishing.

The film is no legendary saga or a celebration of triumph. But it is a recognition of contribution to the creation of history and an effort full of empathy and understanding to unravel an almost mythic man. It is engaging, solid, with a lot of heart and a perspicacity so rare in the way we tell our stories these days.

1 Response
Like your review Fatema although the film itself was far from satisfying.  Deepa Deosthalee January 20, 2012 at 5:29 am
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