J. Edgar (2011)

Synopsis: A biopic of the rise of J. Edgar Hoover, the father of the FBI

My Take

The FBI has been, and continues to be, the subject of countless movies and television procedurals. The reason being it is generally easy to make it sexy. They look at the baddest of the bad. Kidnapping, terrorism, drug running, serial killers. Yet the man who built the foundations of the modern day FBI, John Edgar Hoover, is as fascinating a man as anyone those movies and TV shows have portrayed.

He spent 48 years in the Bureau, 39 as Director. He introduced forensic science, centralised fingerprinting and modernised methods of investigating serious and organised crimes. He was also a bitter man, a closet homosexual, a cross dresser, tyrannically patriotic and dangerously petty. Mix that up with backstabbing, commie hunting, gangster shooting action and you’ve got a damn sexy story. Put it in the capable hands of Clint Eastwood directing Leo D and it screams awesomeness. So I was severely disappointed with just how dull this turned out to be.

J. Edgar Movie

This was obviously a labour of love. Usually when well known directors like Dirty Harry bring painstakingly well dressed movies about historical figures or institutions to the big screen it is because they have a bit of a boner for them. Unfortunately, that also leads to a certain loss of objectivity when it comes to creating drama and knowing when to cut the flab. When you have deeply invested opinions about the subject matter it’s all to easy to get lost in the weeds.

I am a bit of a geek for American history, particularly stuff related to the FBI and CIA. So I was pretty excited for this in the same way as I was for The Good Shepherd (2006), which charted the rise of the CIA to the Bay of Pigs fiasco. But It suffers from similar issues as The Good Shepherd. It looks gorgeous, but is as dull as shit. There’s just nothing entertaining about watching a bunch of actors walk around with a faces like a slapped arse for two hours. Actually, that’s not true. There are plenty of fantastic movies with a void of humour that are fantastically entertaining, but for that to be true the story and characters need to be gripping. They need to draw you in emotionally. So it says something that presented with a fascinating relationship between this deeply sexually conflicted, ultra-Conservative and his most trusted adviser I never really cared about either of them. I think most of this was that Hoover was not a likeable guy and this relationship was supposed to show his contrasting humanity. But I just didn’t care enough to keep me interested.

The whole thing has a very Clint Eastwood stoicism to it. And to be fair it’s still interesting enough watch if you’ve got any interest in the history of the FBI, the Cold War or the politics of the time. But as a dramatic piece it lacks……well, much drama. For all the sexiness of the FBI this was kind of limp. It was kind of fun to play spot the historical figure but that wasn’t enough for me.

Verdict: Watch at your own discretion


Taglines: The Most Powerful Man in the World

Director: Clint Eastwood

Writers: Dustin Lance Black – Oscar winning screenwriter with previous biopic experience writing Milk. A high profile Hollywood LGBT rights activist, he has recently written a star studded movie, 8, focussed on the passing of Proposition 8 in California.

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench, Stephen Root


  • Armie Hammer, who plays Clyde Tolson, is the great-grandson of Occidental Petroleum tycoon Armand Hammer. In his biography of Hammer (the tycoon, not the actor) called “Dossier: The Secret History of Armand Hammer,” author Edward Jay Epstein reported that the tycoon had a multi-decade history of being scrutinized and suspected of Soviet ties by J. Edgar Hoover. Armie stated in an interview that he took the role to avenge that scrutiny.
  • There was actually a huge fight between J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson in a hotel during one of their trips. According to Clint Eastwood, there are several testimonies of maids that talked about the room being destroyed after the discussion. However, writer Dustin Lance Black dramatized the content of the argument.

Streaming on LoveFilm and showing currently on Sky Movies


2 replies »

  1. If this part of American history floats your boat you really need to read James elroy’s “American tabloid” and ” the cold six thousand”. Their mix of real and fantasy characters and their epic scale are a thing of wonder.

    • Oh cool, always looking for new reading material, particularly if it deals with the impact of the Cold War in the US. I keep doing this at the moment, I ordered three books on the CIA after watching Zero Dark Thirty

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