I knew some facts about J. Edgar Hoover’s life but learned some new things. Whether they are facts or Hollywood fiction, research will tell. ;) But I liked seeing Hoover as a young man and influenced by the Red Scare of 1919. I also learned that he helped create the Library of Congress’ classification system. Talk about an awkward date! Only an obsessive-compulsive personality would think to take a woman to the Library for a date, LOL.
I’ll admit that Leonardo DiCaprio did make Hoover nuanced and you couldn’t help but feel sorry for him at times. He was a scared man terrified of his sexuality and socially awkward. His mother was a domineering, forceful woman and the scene in which she says, “I would rather have a dead son than a daffodil (slang for gay) for a son" was powerful.
I was surprised that Director Clint Eastwood and the writers made the Hoover/Tolson relationship fact instead of speculation. Whether or not they ever consummated their relationship was left ambiguous. In the big fight scene after Clyde kisses Edgar, the latter says “Don’t ever do that again” and you’re left to wonder if he meant don’t ever hit him again, kiss him again, or both.
As a Public Enemies fan, I was disappointed that there was so little of Dillinger and Purvis in this film. John Dillinger was mentioned only a few times in passing, and the movie took the stance that the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping was what made the Bureau instead of the killing of John Dillinger.
As for Melvin, he was mentioned more often but also not seen. Possibly it was glossed over because the complex relationship between him and Hoover could fill an entire movie by itself.
So, if you expected to see Johnny and Mel, they were not on-screen. Still, the focus on Hoover gives up better insight into his character and as a Public Enemies fanfic writer, I can possibly use what I learned. Billy Crudup wasn’t given much opportunity to go beyond the law-and-order Hoover in Public Enemies, but here we see many facets to Hoover’s character. Whether or not I’ll ever use those facets remains to be seen, but the film was undeniably gripping.
It was easy to figure that Hoover was making himself look good at the expense of the truth. His accounts of arrests he made were phony. The scene in which an old man on a white horse clops down the street and delays Hoover into arresting Alvin Karpis is pure malarkey. Clyde knew all his secrets, and yet Edgar still needed him despite not wanting to. At least Armie Hammer got lines to speak as Clyde unlike Chandler Williams in Public Enemies! ;)
Their first meeting was very discreet (possibly at a gay club?). Exchanging cards and Clyde looking gorgeous. Easy to see why Hoover fell for him.
Amusing bits: when the older Hoover dictates his story to FBI agents, it always seems to be a new agent. And whenever a new President is inaugurated and he is summoned to meet with them, he brings along his blackmail folder. Except when he met Nixon, Tricky Dick wanted to know all about his files and couldn’t be blackmailed because he was in the same business! ;)
It’s well-documented that Bobby Kennedy and Hoover loathed each other and we see that in a confrontational scene where Bobby wants more action against the Mafia but Hoover pulls the blackmail card so that he can continue pursuing “subversives” like Martin Luther King, Jr. When JFK is shot in Dallas, Hoover calls up Bobby and simply says, “The President has been shot” and hangs up. That has been documented, too. Sympathetic much?
Hoover’s secretary Helen Gandy is devoted and loyal throughout the decades but even she starts to question Hoover’s methods, just as Clyde does, but they both remain loyal. BTW, she is the date who was taken to the Library of Congress decades ago. After Hoover’s death in May of 1972 she shreds his confidential files. Nixon can appreciate a loyal secretary! ;)
A word about the make-up: it was good on DiCaprio as Hoover aged but dreadful on Hammer as Clyde. He looked like a wax figure by the end! Naomi Watts fared better as Helen Gandy with her aging make-up.
Overall I give the movie a thumbs-up. It kept me intrigued for the entire two hours and seventeen minutes and the period details of cars, clothes, and other ephemera were excellent. Eastwood and DiCaprio combine to give us a nuanced portrayal of J. Edgar Hoover, a complex man who was a living example of the old saw of “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” His inflated ego and self-aggrandizement is put on display as is his vulnerabilities, especially when it came to his sexuality.
The flaws of the film are the grand scope of a nearly 50-year career truncated to fit into a feature film’s two hours and change. The story of J. Edgar would be better suited to a TV miniseries, methinks.
For Public Enemies fans, there are disappointments but I would still recommend it as Hoover is one of the triumvirate of our beloved movie.
Cross-posted to guns_fedoras