by Rick Grant
Like a 1940s movie, Clint Eastwood cleverly created a slow, but evenly moving character study of a sexually conflicted man, who singlehandedly built the FBI into a major law-enforcement organization. He did this by his audacious personality and belief that if the Bureau was to be respected, he needed to modernize its methods.
Eastwood tells the story through the eyes of Hoover as he struggles to get funding from Congress for his modernization program. He was the first lawman to recognize that fingerprints could be used to identify suspects. He then organized a file catalog to quickly find a suspects prints. More significantly, he brought forensic science into the FBI building by establishing a lab to help solve the Lindbergh kidnapping case.
In contrast, Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Hoover adroitly exposes his paranoia that his sexual orientation would be exposed. This fear led to his amassing private files on anyone he decided was a threat. He used these files as leverage to blackmail this growing list of individuals to keep quiet and solidify his power.
Of course, Hoover’s relationship with Clyde Tolson (Arnie Hammer) as his constant companion, and Tolson’s nebulous position as “Associate Director,” was a giant tell to most people who knew him. However, Hoover was untouchable.
Naomi Watts skillfully played Hoover’s fiercely loyal secretary, Helen Gandy, who honored his dying wish to shred all of his secret files. Indeed, despite Hoover’s twisted fears of exposure, his savvy vision for the Bureau created the most respected Federal law enforcement organization on the planet. He tirelessly lobbied Congress for funds to bring in state of the art forensic science to help solve high profile cases.
Hoover’s 50 year reign as head of the Bureau was tainted by his use of Federal agents to get dirt on his enemies. DiCaprio is riveting as Hoover through his many years at the helm. After so many years of wielding power while leading a secret life clearly affected Hoover’s health. Hoover is a perfect example of the adage that “power corrupts, absolutely.”
The big question one has to ask leaving the theater is: Did Hoover’s accomplishments as a law enforcement leader offset his power mongering and the blatant blackmail of many prominent Washington movers and shakers? The answer is no! But his life story in the hands of Clint Eastwood made for a fascinating movie that doesn’t whitewash Hoover’s flaws.
J. Edgar Movie Review
by Rick Grant