This Hoover sucks: Clint Eastwood's biopic of infamous FBI chief J.Edgar Hoover fights shy of telling the truth
Verdict: Won't Hoover up awards
This was a week where two very different directors bent over backwards to salvage damaged reputations.
The more tolerable of these is Clint Eastwood’s back-handed tribute to the founder of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, portrayed over many decades by Leonardo DiCaprio, under increasingly heavy layers of mottled make-up.
It’s unclear what finally killed J. Edgar, but a strong possibility must be that he was choked by a rubber mask.
Taking the stand: Leonardo DiCaprio as J.Edgar Hoover
Hoover has been portrayed for so long by the Left as a monster that it’s refreshing to see Eastwood illuminate his achievements: his introduction of finger-printing and forensic science into the fight against crime, his insistence on the FBI becoming a meritocracy, and his gift for involving the support of the American public.
Early on, too, the film reminds us that, paranoid though Hoover was, the anarchist and communist threats to America were far from imaginary.
There were bombings and shootings in the Twenties by people bent on subverting American democracy.
However, Eastwood and his writer Dustin Lance Black (Milk) are coy when mentioning, but then not really exploring, Hoover’s contempt for civil liberties, especially those of his political enemies.
J.Edgar through the ages: The law enforcement chief is portrayed over many decades by Leonardo DiCaprio, under increasingly heavy layers of mottled make-up
Just about the only charge they spend time over is that he aggrandised himself in his accounts of the FBI’s activities by pretending he spent as much time out in the field as he did behind a desk.
It’s been claimed that Hoover was homosexual and a cross-dresser, but the film suggests he was unwilling or unable to come out of the closet — and, anyway, his sexual confusion was all the fault of his domineering mother, a nuanced but ferocious performance by Judi Dench.
Other supporting characters are competently played, but annoyingly underwritten.
We never get much idea of what drives his long-term assistant and former girlfriend Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) beyond careerism.
Hoover’s deputy Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) is more openly gay than his boss, but his professional qualities are a mystery.
As a director, Eastwood has become ponderous and repetitious with age. He badly needs someone to tell him when enough’s enough. As Hereafter showed, he’s become a terrible judge of a script. This one is turgid and full of verbal anachronisms.
The screenplay leaps around in time to no purpose; the whole film, which runs to almost 2 hours, would have gained from being presented in chronological order and reduced to a manageable 100 minutes.
The movie feels like a wasted opportunity. The most intriguing aspect of J. Edgar Hoover is hardly his sexuality or lack of it, but his argument that civil rights must come second to national security — a timely issue, but one the film seems reluctant to explore.
Instead of dealing with that core element of his personality, the film turns into a bureaucratic version of Brokeback Mountain — which is not only speculative, but also not that interesting.