With no real knowledge of history, someone asked “who was the most powerful man in the country during the sixties and seventies” would probably answer with the name of a president. JFK, LBJ, or Nixon, most likely. And they’d be wrong. During all their turns as chief executive, only one man had all of them quaking in their boots.
J. Edgar Hoover (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is dictating his autobiography to a young FBI agent and this provides the sequence of events for the film. The beginning of his relationship with long-time secretary and confidant Helen Gandy (played by Naomi Watts), the creation and growth of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and those prominent cases that helped to garner press coverage for the Bureau and Hoover specifically. Chief among those is the Lindbergh kidnapping. But we find out later during a private moment between Hoover and his deputy, Clyde Tolson (played by Armie Hammer) that his recollections are usually embellished and occasionally flat-out lies. And while the relationship of Hoover and Tolson has been the subject of much speculation, the film does little to explore it.
If you read and remember my review of Water for Elephants, than you know I hate Leonardo DiCaprio. That hatred, however, has not stopped me from enjoying several of his movies in the theater and purchasing them on DVD. The Aviator, Blood Diamond, and, most recently, Inception to name a few. I also enjoy Clint Eastwood’s work as both a director and an actor despite serious missteps like True Crime and Blood Work. And while I’ve never liked Hoover, I was anxious to see this film on his life. When you start off intending to make a film about a paranoid, power-mad, cross-dresser with a penchant for blackmail and who is alleged to have had an affair with his second-in-command, ending up with a dull finished product is practically an accomplishment and that’s what happened. Perhaps any one film is not enough to offer real exploration of this polarizing historical figure, but with the cast and crew already mentioned and a script by the same writer who brought us the 2008 biopic Milk with Sean Penn in the title role, this was a disappointment and a rather significant one, at that.