Steen: DiCaprio gives Oscar-worthy character study in J. Edgar

The film J. Edgar was based on true events, some historical facts and others of a more personal nature.

J. Edgar

The film J. Edgar was based on true events, some historical facts and others of a more personal nature based on files that were discovered after Hoover’s death.

J. Edgar Hoover was a powerful, complicated and conflicted individual who headed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for almost 50 years. Hoover himself (no relation to President Hoover or the vacuum company) was born in Washington DC in 1895 and in 1921 Hoover set about establishing a crime fighting organization which would become the FBI. He kept this position throughout the presidencies of Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon and even as he aged, no president suggested he retire.

In 1926 Hoover established a central fingerprint file which became the largest in the world. Hoover’s wire-tapping of everyone from stars to politicians added personal files to the ever growing amount of information he gathered on anyone who he felt might be any kind of a threat to the American way of life.

While most of us baby boomers only know Hoover as an old man in his heyday, he and his “G-Men” were the stuff of myth and legend. Hoover himself, among other traits, good and bad, was an opportunist and in 1932, when the 14-month-old son of Charles Lindbergh and his wife was kidnapped and held for ransom, Hoover went on to make kidnapping a Federal offence, thus forever changing the FBI and giving the bureau even more power upon which to act with or without impunity.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Hoover is captivating in his portrayal of a man who sought power by ensuring that he had in his keeping the secrets of everyone else who sought power.

DiCaprio plays Hoover as both young and old and my bet is that he is going to be nominated for an Oscar for this role.

Hoover himself had his own secrets to be sure, and DiCaprio is able to make us see the many sides of a man who had one friend (some say lover), Clyde Tolson, in his life and not much more outside of his all-consuming work.

Naomi Watts was unrecognizable as Helen Gandy, Hoover’s loyal-to-a-fault private secretary who kept the secrets even after Hoover’s passing in 1972 when he died at age 77.

Between Clyde Tolson (played wonderfully by Armie Hammer) and Helen Gandy, all traces of Hoover’s personal life vanished and any facts we might have are based on misfiled documents found after his death. The gangster Myer Lansky supposedly had irrefutable proof of Hoover’s proclivities and that was the real reason why Lansky’s own mob activities were overlooked by law enforcement.

Judy Dench plays Annie Hoover, J. Edgar’s protective mother, Ken Howard is Harlan Stone, Jeffrey Donovan is Robert Kennedy—it is a known fact that Robert Kennedy despised Hoover and while this is played down in the movie, there is no doubt that Donovan serves up deep disdain for Hoover, who of course, has all the Kennedy secrets in his ever-growing files.

This was a good, solid film with references to historical events, and shows a power-hungry, egotistical, flawed, driven, celebrity-seeking, unhappy man who headed the largest law enforcement bureau of its kind during the days of racial uprisings, strengthening communism, gang and mob intensity—all viewed as dire threats to the “American” way of life by Hoover and his hand-picked agents.

Best line:  “No one freely shares power in Washington, DC.”

Great acting and a glimpse into a recent past when gangsters were often romanticized and the lines between the powerful and the average citizens were often marked according to the amount of “dirt” that was accumulated.

This gets a solid four reels.






I also saw Immortals over the weekend and let me tell you, this is no chick-flick. I can only be grateful that I didn’t see the 3D version because the blood flow in slow motion would have been hard to watch, even for this tough old bird.

The premise is that Theseus is chosen by Zeus to lead the fight against King Hyperion to obtain a mighty weapon that could destroy mankind. Mickey Rourke was the terrible King Hyperion and he was truly great in the part.

Stephen Dorff, son of composer Steve Dorff (who luckily looks nothing like his talented father) plays the hero Theseus and Freida Pinto, best known for the role of Latika in Slumdog, is still stunning (why don’t we ever see her without make-up?).

Some good acting but painful to watch unless you like blood and gore and then it’s a winner. Two reels.

Susan Steen is a local non-profit executive and movie buff.



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