Film review | J Edgar – Clint and Leo’s warts’n’all study of FBI boss Hoover: one for the waxworks museum


Leonardo DiCaprio puts his pin-up days well and truly behind him to play notorious FBI chief J Edgar Hoover from youthful idealist to paranoid old age in Clint Eastwood’s solid but stodgy biopic J Edgar.

It’s not a flattering portrait. Playing Hoover from 1919 to his death in 1972, DiCaprio portrays America’s top cop as a repressed mother’s boy (Judi Dench is his doting ma) and vindictive control freak who wields power by keeping tabs on the private lives of the country’s leaders, including presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy.

As for Hoover’s own dirty secrets, the film mostly plays coy, suggesting that his relationship with long-term second-in-command Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) was a passionate but asexual friendship. The fact that his idea of a hot date was checking out the card index system in the Library of Congress affirms that his interest in women was muted. (The woman who goes on this date in the film, typist Helen Gandy, played by Naomi Watts, became his long-time secretary instead.)

As his character ages, DiCaprio does well to give spirit to the figure beneath the fake jowls, wrinkles and liver spots, even if he does progressively resemble a waxworks dummy, but despite – or perhaps because of – the care Eastwood lavishes on the period details, the film itself fails to come alive.

On general release from Friday 20th January 2012.


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