There is no bigger Clint Eastwood fan than me. I think I like his directing more than his acting. This time however, he had a bit of trouble keeping the train on the tracks. The five decades J. Edgar Hoover spent as head of the then-Bureau of Investigation and the F.B.I. is quite a chunk of history. Between his unconventional personal life, his questionable tactics and his innovative investigative skills, there’s a lot of road to hoe.
Our story begins in 1919, when a young J. Edgar (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes to work for the bureau. He immediately garners attention when he begins rounding up suspected communists and subversives. At the age of 24, he is appointed head of the bureau and immediately takes the reins, conducting warrantless surveillance and creating secret files on anybody and everybody who may pose a threat either to the country or to Hoover personally.
To assist him in this task, Hoover relies on Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), his trusted personal secretary, and Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), a handsome young lawyer who grows to become Edgar’s lifelong companion. Of course, if Hoover were gay, the fact that his mother (Judi Dench) tells him she would rather have a dead son that a gay son, would certainly be explanation enough for his conflict.
The film follows Hoover’s battles with each administration, the spread of communism and the hunt for the Lindbergh baby. It’s quite a bit to process. I think the film would have benefited immensely from taking a piece of Hoover’s career—say the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and the capture of Bruno Hauptman—and focusing on it. Here, they are covering so much ground, both personal and professional, it’s hard for any of it to have impact. The acting is wonderful, as one would expect, but the story lacks punch.
It's a 6.