I really wanted to like this movie. After all-it was directed by Clint Eastwood, and has two amazing stars. Leonardo DiCaprio-a perennial favorite, and the relatively new star Armie Hammer. And the subject! J. Edgar Hoover was a fascinating man. Highly intelligent and ambitious, he brought the FBI into the modern era of crime detection. He instituted the first real modern crime lab, and pioneered crime fighting techniques such as fingerprint technology.
But-and this is a big but-he was suspicious and paranoid. He supposedly kept private confidential files on U.S. Presidents and their families, as well as many other figures, both private and public.
I would have preferred that J. Edgar focus more on the people whose lives and careers he affected, and not so much on his supposed homosexual tendencies and cross-dressing. There is enough that was true of Hoover that the speculation into that aspect of his private life was really not necessary.
DiCaprio and Hammer were both amazing in their physical transformation over the years. Hammer plays Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s long time friend and the first Deputy Director of the FBI. Hammer is only 25, but he plays the ill and elderly Tolson so convincingly. Hoover died at the age of 77, and DiCaprio moves and speaks like a sick old man.
J. Edgar is somewhat convoluted, bouncing between time periods. And Naomi Watts was, I think, not a good choice to play Helen Gandy, an early love interest for Hoover and his long-time secretary. There is no explanation for her continued devotion to Hoover, as she seemed to recognize some of his serious lapses in judgment.
So-to see or not to see? Overall I’d say yes, but remember that it is a movie-and it is (mostly) fiction!