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on January 7, 2012
A scene at a clothing store in which John Edgar Hoover is told he has bad credit finds him telling them that they are incorrect, they must be speaking of another John Hoover. They ask if he is indeed John Hoover and he says yes but adds that he signs his name different ways, not usually just plainly as John Hoover but with his middle name or E initial included (his mother did always call him Edgar). The shop owner then tells Hoover to open up a new account and sign it with one name and to go by that name. John takes the application form and writes J. Edgar Hoover.

To me this scene is symbollic of the larger film. J. Edgar Hoover is a film about a man who, like many of us, had many sides and aspects that composed who he was. He was greatly conflicted about which side he should portray publicly and stumbled rather awkwardly in his younger years, illustrated wonderfully in the film, until finally deciding that J. Edgar Hoover was who he was going to be. That was the side he was going to live publicly and the person he was going to be, right or wrong, with full conviction. The rest of the film shows us the consequent problems, struggles and complications that follow from this choice.

I was concerned that this film wouldn't live up to my expectations, others have been rating it rather ordinary and others negatively, few seem really excited about it after having viewed it. In a way I can see where they are coming from. It is a long film with dark moody colors, almost as if Eastwood wanted it to be black and white, and a lot of dialogue that moves quite fast without much regard for helping the audience along or spelling things out. All that aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and while it didn't blow my mind or leave me with any great revelations about my own life it was a great movie experience and had me thinking and entertained the entire time I was watching it.

I'm not sure where all the more negative or critical reviews are coming from, perhaps people have high standards from Eastwood and expected something groundbreaking, perhaps they just expected something different, but after all the negative or ho-hum opinions I had heard about this film I was pleasantly surprised and recommend it for fans of drama or biopics. I especially recommend it for those like myself who have been waiting for a more compelling film this movie-going season.

Perhaps I enjoyed it more because I have seen a truly terrible line of recent films in cinemas, Jack and Jill being the latest before seeing this (that movie was awful, so awful. I thought it would be bad but in an over the top funny way, it was just bad). So maybe my enjoyment was raised during this film because other recent films have left me underwhelmed and bored or wanting my money back. I haven't seen an excellently crafted film in theaters since The Help and haven't even thought one merited repeat viewings since the surprise that was 50/50. This film didn't knock me out but I will definitely watch it again and will likely even buy it on Blu-ray because I want it to be part of my collection and think it will become more engaging upon future viewings.

People are complaining about the old age make up, it never bothered me once despite other reviewer comments making me more critical than usual. People say there are many impersonations of presidents and such that are distracting, the only one that felt as much to me was Richard Nixon's brief appearance towards the end because it was so over the top. People say it drags, but I was never wanting for it to hurry or speed along, I was always compelled with what was on screen. There are complaints that the broken narrative is confusing and jumps too much, it's fairly straightforward with only two timelines occuring. Hoover in his old age is dictating his past for a manuscript and both these timelines are otherwise chronological and move forward with one another. People say there is no real message or overriding theme to speak of, I think deeper digging and repeat viewings will find them more well constructed than others are giving credit right now. Most of all though, even if some find merit to these criticisms I don't find that any of them would keep the film from being enjoyable as a whole.

This film may be getting less positive reviews because people thought it could have been so many things that it isn't. In the end I feel Eastwood and the writer picked a direction and identity for the film and much like J. Edgar they decided to move forward with full conviction. It is what it is and any negatives don't outweigh all the positives it brings in my opinion, but everyone will judge the film differently I suppose, much like everyone has different opinions on J. Edgar Hoover the man.

It may also help me that I'm very interested in history and this time period. Also in how institutions such as the FBI got built up and came to be (the film does an excellent job at explaining how the bureau slowly found ways to gain power and independence). Anyways, give this film a chance, I give it five stars because I may not have LOVED the film but I did love the experience of watching it, if that makes sense.
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on January 20, 2012
Clint Eastwood, Dustin Lance Black and Leonardo DiCaprio join forces to understand the 20th century's most admired, hated and controversial man, J. Edgar Hoover (with a tour de force performance by DiCaprio).

Let me first say that when I first heard of this project in the works I virtually knew very little about the F.B.I founder. I had however seen great depictions by actors like Bob Hoskins, Vincent Gardenia, Billy Crudup and more recently by Enrico Colantoni. All good performances without a doubt but only two dimensional portrayals. Here DiCaprio creates a 5th dimensional character that the audience can try to more or less understand.

The film spans nearly 50 years in the history timeline, jumping timeframe by time frame and creating a rich tapestry of political drama and turmoil in our nation's history. DiCaprio plays both the young, ambitious and advanced Hoover as well as the old, embittered czar whom all politicians feared by the 1950's.Armie Hammer plays his protege and second man in the Bureau Clyde Tolson. Hammer is the soul and conscience of the film as well as Hoover's constantly ignored emotions. Judi Dench, Naomi Watts and Jeffrey Donovan turn in great performances as well. The screenplay is rich and meticulously researched and Eastwood's direction has perfected greatly to the point of crafting his most ambitous, and richest project since his excellent "Flags/Letters" duo.

If you enjoy history, historical dramas, this is for you. A thought provoking, psychological insight into this man's soul and heart and the effect he had on this nation's history. One of the most chilling moments in the film happens toward end when a anxiously devastated Hoover witnesses the inaugural of Richard Nixon amd almost forsees the devastation that will befall the U.S. with the race riots, Vietnam, protesting students and assasination of MLK and etc, while "Star and Stripes Forever" plays in the background and if the audience undertands it, they begin to mourn the death of our nation.

Eastwood almost mirrors Oliver Stone in a more calm way but by the end of the film your opinion is yours and yours alone. I watched this 5 times in theatres and I would damn well watch it again because it is simply an American Masterpiece from an American Master who has clearly matured and seen the significant changes in our country. I can only hope this review does this film justice for all the misjudgements there have been about it. Frankly, it is the best picture of the year!!
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on February 26, 2012
There are many novelists who profess that they really don't know how their novel will end when they set out to write it, that the plot develops as they progress. I had to wonder if director Clint Eastwood went through the same process in making "J. Edgar". Of course that's not possible, movie-making doesn't work that way, so perhaps it's just the subtlety of his progression that just made me think that he did.

Sitting down to watch it I knew first that I would hate Hoover. No, more, I really wanted to hate Hoover... historically, what's not to hate, the man was a mono-maniacal paranoid, a narcissistic, closeted, cross-dressing, hypocritical power-abuser, a polluter of all that could have been good in the still relatively young and malleable America of his time. And yes, all that is there in the movie, even down to the cross-dressing. Clint seems go at it dourly and steadfastly to begin with, the young Hoover is as pushy and repellant as you would expect, but as we see more of his character's complexity, told in tandem with his youthful zeal and intractable old-age, it appears like the liberal softy that he (Clint) is just can't go through with it. So gradually it turns the corner and becomes a rather touching gay love-story. So much so that we lose focus somewhat on J. Edgar himself in favor of his long-time companion, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), who becomes our surrogate in observing the appalling self-parody that Hoover becomes. Eastwood is so good, drawing you in to the life of a notorious historical villain, setting him up, then almost forgiving him. Yes, there is absolution here. Hoover loved, and was loved in return, by Tolson, who is portrayed as essentially a good guy, and was also loved by his long time secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts). They both see him as flawed but not a monster, and we see how Hoover himself, like all monsters, did not think himself a monster. Anything but. Eastwood never lets Hoover's public jaw drop. If nothing else, Hoover believes.

I suppose I came away from this movie just as Eastwood would want me to, outraged, conflicted, and unwillingly sympathetic. But this is the director, after all, who specializes in seeing things from a different angle, who'll make a movie about his own youthful persona in earlier movies ("The Unforgiven") and even make two completely different movies about the same events ("Letters from Iwo-Jima" and "Flags of our Fathers") Like in those movies, in "J. Edgar" he slams mythology head-on into humanity. Humanity wins, of course. This is Hollywood. Nevertheless, I think the man is amazing.

Oh, and if anybody ever again tells you that Leo DeCaprio, who plays Hoover, can't act, point them in this movie's direction.
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J. EDGAR is a cinematic accomplishment of the first order! From the screenplay (Dustin Lance Black) as acted by a host of consummate actors and directed with extreme sensitivity by Clint Eastwood, the sum of the parts is an extraordinary achievement in presenting a portrait of one of the strangest men in history. The manner in which the life and deeds and personality are woven together presents as full an image of a man of contradictions, a man who planned to have his personal files destroyed after his death in order to maintain the iconic image he so desperately desired, is nothing short of a work of dedicated investigation on parts of everyone involved. And electing to tell this story through the ever-changing chameleon aspects of this bizarre man by shifting from youth to old age in a constant parenthetical manner was a stroke of genius.

The rise of young John Edgar Hoover from a mother-favored child, through the emotional conflicts this mother worship produced, through the sightings of incidents suggestive of early 'Bolshevik' interference/threat in this country that Hoover focused on in his usurping power as the head of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Investigation, provides a background from which we can observe the morphing of this obsessed man. The act of staging press conferences around the Lindbergh case and the capture of the big criminals of the day were manipulated to give Hoover supreme power to investigate 'threatening people of interest' by wire taping, spying, etc. But all of this runs parallel to the personal story of Hoover's private sexual life. From his living with his mother until her death, to his incompetent attempt to force himself on the woman who would be his secretary throughout his career, to his bonding with Clyde Tolson who he chose to be his assistant and never was far from his side, to his final hours when Tolson though suffering from the residuum of a stroke was the only person Hoover could trust as Richard Nixon planned his destruction.

Each of the incidents that highlighted Hoover's long career as founder and head of the FBI is presented well, but it is the de-mystification of Hoover the vulnerable man beneath the tyrannical façade that makes this film so extremely powerful. That is due to the script and the direction, of course, but it is also due in large part to the brilliant portrayal of this enigmatic beast of a pathetic man by Leonardo DiCaprio: he remains credible throughout and moves through the aging process and intermittent flashbacks to his younger days with complete ease and credibility. Likewise the performances of Judi Dench as his strange mother ('I'd rather my son be dead than be a daffodil' - her term for 'gay'), of Naomi Watts as his secretary who thwarts Hoover's initial awkward physical advances to become his lifelong supporter, and of Armie Hammer as Hoover's love interest Clyde Tolson acted with such a full range of emotion and subtlety that he is completely credible - these key roles are all of Oscar caliber as supporting roles.

Eastwood's careful casting of actors for the roles of Charles Lindbergh (Josh Lucas), Eisenhower (Gunner Wright), Franklin Roosevelt (David A. Cooper), Harlan Fiske Stone (Ken Howard), Robert Kennedy (Jeffrey Donovan), Colonel Schwarzkopf (Dermot Mulroney), Bruno Hauptmann (Damon Herriman), Richard Nixon (Christopher Shyer), and Haldeman (Larkin Campbell) gives the audience the opportunity to catch glimpses of the people influenced by Hoover without stooping to caricatures.

But in the end it is the slow dissection of the relationship between Hoover and Tolson that is the most powerful element of this film. The audience is left with little doubt that these men were, in truth, lovers without the expected obvious stereotypical activities and conversations. It is an act of greatness on the parts of all involved, and for this reason probably more than any other aspect of this huge film, this biopic deserves to be in the lineup for Best Picture of the Year. Grady Harp, February 12
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J. EDGAR (dir. Clint Eastwood, 2011, 126 mins.) is one of the highlights of film - and one of the finest 'biopics' ever crafted. It is always my pleasure and honor to be able to say, after watching an Eastwood film, that it is among the finest I've ever seen. This film is no exception.

The movie is precisely a biopic of the FBI director (and essentially its founder), really no more and no less. Do not let anyone tell you a pitch-perfect biography is easy for a director to do. In recent films, the couple of pathetic appearances by lousy bit-players in the role of Hoover only added to the need for this film.

Done partly from flashbacks and partly from an elderly Hoover's own narration - as he dictates his memoires about finding and arresting Baby Lindbergh's kidnapper - the film deftly flashes backward and forward in time, leading us from the start of his dictation, flashing back to his start as director of the Bureau of Investigation.

It continues in this way, back-and-forth, showing every detail as most Hoover students know it. Nothing is over-the-top, as Eastwood is a man of subtleties. Even Deputy Director Clyde Tolson (the gorgeous Armie Hammer), who was as close to a spouse as Hoover ever had, is beautifully and quietly portrayed. Dame Judi Dench as Hoover's mother is sparkling and convincing. Every actor in this film is breathtaking - whether shown only for seconds, such as Manu Intiraymi (STAR TREK VOYAGER) as the infamous Alvin Karpis, or shown constantly like the eternal presence of Hoover's faithful secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts).

Leo DiCaprio is no slouch here. While the makeup is Oscar-worthy and I can't imagine Oscar skipping over the achievement, it is DiCaprio at his finest. Perhaps above and beyond his finest. There is a mean, snotty, Jon Voigt-like quality in his aged Hoover; the youthful Hoover is just nervous and goofy enough to be believable to those of us who remember him when he was a younger man.

I believe DiCaprio has an Oscar in the can for this; likewise Eastwood. Don't miss the chance to see this for the genuine skinny on a man who has been more reviled and hated than anyone since Hitler - it will inspire you to read the rest of the story and discover what this man Hoover really did for this country.

No one can ask for a better film than this. However, a wonderful, lively companion piece that I think is a must-see is 1977's The Private Files Of J. Edgar Hoover (MGM Limited Edition Collection) (see my review), a star-studded and realistic extravaganza of great history, locations and top-notch acting.
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on January 21, 2012
I will be short on this film because it probably is one of the best by Clint Eastwood.

First the actors. They have to cover a whole life and it starts in their early twenties and ends in their late seventies with diseases and death. It is not only a question of special makeup effects but it is a question of deportment, behaviour, rhythm, flexibility, credibility at any age in their facial expressions and their language. It takes time, a lot of training and great talent to do that. If it were easy they would all do it. Very few actually can.

Second the institutional subject. The creation of the FBI. Its transformation from a semi-clandestine agency to a scientific, well trained and very effective and diligent institution. The film is clear how difficult it was to get laws passed and finances granted by Congress. Some of the arguments were opportunistic and some were logical, but they all had only one aim: to get what it needs to become the best. J. Edgar Hoover was in a way irritating in his way to serialize the action of the FBI for the nascent mass-media that the radio and the cinema were becoming. He was extremely disturbing in his umbilical ego-centeredness or ego-centricity. But that was him and the actor is able to render this cold, calculated and very tense character who had a problem with public elocution and had managed to overcome it with an extremely strict discipline.

That leads to his action and his vision of the FBI. He was extremely authoritative and manipulative. He never took no for an answer and for him one no was always a disguised and hidden yes. He accumulated information on all the people he could one day depend on, politicians, congressmen and justices or judges, to blackmail them if necessary. He generally had his way and one of his major failures was with Martin Luther King that he could not blackmail into refusing the Nobel Peace Prize. The film is at times on the very verge of being embarrassing, though it only speaks of dead figures because it is dealing with rumors on Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Richard Nixon and a few others. I am not even sure some of the information is not frankly false.

But Clint Eastwood is a patriot and he shows the patriotic side of the character with insistence and weight, to the point of reaching bigotry at times, for example on the subject of racism. He built the FBI in the fight against the anarchist and communist movement in the 20s and 30s, against the gangsters of the 20s and Prohibition, against the Germans in the 30s too, without specifying the political innuendo of the national reference in 1934 among Americans questioned by the FBI about someone who had a German accent. No nuance. Clint Eastwood gives his matter raw and uncooked at all.

But Clint Eastwood reaches beyond these elements to capture the real personal and intimate dimension of his character. And here he is not using innuendo and allusions. J. Edgar Hoover's relation with his direct deputy is seen as a sentimental relation on the side of the deputy and an emotional relation on the side of J. Edgar Hoover himself. The tremendous condemnation of any gay orientation by his mother creates in him a tremendous struggle due to his attachment to his mother. The truth will come at the very end with a friendly even paternal kiss to his deputy on the night before dying. He will explain how he recruited him because he needed someone and he knew that young man needed a strong paternal figure that he accepted to be.

Of course the revelation of the love of that young man for his boss is dramatized by Clint Eastwood, and maybe even too much because that was the intimate and private life of two men who did not reveal anything in public, far from it. But it is done with such delicacy, tenderness. J. Edgar Hoover appears in the film as having compensated the absence of a father figure and the presence of a strong authoritarian mother figure on his side, by playing that father figure with his direct deputy who needed such a father figure. The compensated lack of J. Edgar Hoover became the satisfaction of the need of his deputy. So much alike and yet so different.

That personal touch in this film makes the film a lot more fascinating because it speaks of something that may happen to anyone: love is the only thing that survives in life and is stronger than even hatred as J. Edgar Hoover explains as he is climbing the stairs to his bedroom for the very last time in his life.

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on February 27, 2012
Easily, this was one of the most well-acted and well-crafted films of 2011. Eastwood is ahead of his time as a director. Or maybe he stayed with the time, of past, when there were high standards when it came to filmmaking. Many people are now so used to underpar films that they can't even recognize what quality is anymore... Zero (major) Oscar nominations for J.Edgar. Wow. Okay. I guess Clint's more ambitious works such as this one, Changeling and Hereafter will have to wait to get there due in the future, when more people will look back and say hey that was actually good. (Seriously, The Artist was preferred by the Academy over this film? Not even a nomination for Leonardo who turned in his best performance yet? Oh brother.)
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on February 29, 2012
By Jim Clark, publisher, Lee County Courier, Tupelo, MS

John Edgar Hoover, almost single-handedly, formed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) in 1935. By keeping secret files on the powerful men, including the presidents, who funded the organization, he was able to remain the director until his death in 1972.
Leonardo DiCaprio expertly portrays the man in J. Edgar, a film directed by Clint Eastwood.
The film largely covers the period from Palmer Raids, through the solving of the Lindbergh kidnapping. It also ventures into the rumors that John Edgar was gay, and in a long term relationship with Clyde Tolson, an associate director of the FBI.
He also, apparently, had a flair for cross-dressing most likely brought on by his over bearing mother, Anne Marie (Judi Dench - M from the later James Bond films). When J.Edgar runs out of a nightclub because a woman asks him to dance - he's met by an outraged mother. She tells him she would rather have a dead son than a "daffodil" for a son.
However, Hoover was paramount in the discovery of modern crime-fighting techniques like marking money given to the kidnappers, handwriting analysis and fingerprinting.
He was possessed by communism, seeing conspiracy around every corner. He also had a tendency to take credit for bringing down big name gangsters, with the outlandish tales showing up in comic books.
J. Edgar is a great film, just beware it's long and slow moving.
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VINE VOICEon February 25, 2012
Let's face it: J. Edgar Hoover is one of the more controversial figures of the 20th Century. He was the top lawman in the nation, but he often resorted to unsavory tactics to bring down the bad guys (and kept files on a bunch of the "good" guys whose views he distrusted, such as JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr.). He was a complex human being: hero and villain at the same time, insecure but powerful, distrusting even of his own emotions. No one film could ever capture such a figure.

J. EDGAR tries. It really does. Dustin Lance Black's (MILK) script is solid, if not quite eventful. Despite such a volatile central figure, the closest thing to a climactic moment comes between Hoover and his rumored lover, Clyde Tolson; that would be great, if this were a film about Hoover's possible homosexuality, but it isn't. Nor is it a film about Hoover's political subterfuge. Or the founding of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It's a film about all of that, which means it ends up, really, being a film about none of it. It tries encompassing too much, and in the end, it's as though everyone involved unanimously agreed that Hoover was far too complex for that. So they settled for something a little watered-down.

That's not to say this film doesn't have its merits. It's another solid piece of filmmaking from director Clint Eastwood. It's not in his "great" category (say, UNFORGIVEN or MYSTIC RIVER); it's more like INVICTUS, which was undeniably good but otherwise unremarkable. Likewise, Leonardo DiCaprio gives a layered performance at the titular character; it's not his best, either, but it's worth watching. The best moments of the film come from the inferiority Hoover feels from interacting with others, namely Judi Dench as his mother, Armie Hammer as Tolson, and Naomi Watts as trustworthy secretary Helen Gandy. It is in these moments that J. EDGAR shows glimmers of what it could have been. Unfortunately, each relationship could easily have been its own film, and that's not even brushing the various political angles. As is, J. EDGAR is a film that tries to do too much--but at least you know you have a solid, dependable crew behind at the helm.
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I had grave doubts that this movie would come off. The subject matter, the life of J. Edgar Hoover, is notoriously complex and other attempts in the past to put it on the big, or the little, screen have not come off well. Nor did I see how Dicaprio could pull off the role of J. Edgar Hoover. It did not seem like a good fit to me. However, I am glad to be wrong. Dicapiro does a truly stellar job in the role of J. Edgar Hoover. I quickly found myself forgetting that it was Dicaprio playing a role -- that was J. Edgar Hoover up on the screen. The storyline in this film is very accurate as far as the facts go. One inaccuracy, which I suppose Hollywood could not resist, was the notion that there was at least a tiny romantic spark between Hoover and Miss Helen Gandy, his personal assistant. There is no factual basis for this assumption that I know of.

My main criticism of the film is that it appears to focus overmuch on the relationship between Clyde Tolson and Hoover. Tolson, of course, was Hoover's number two man at the Bureau and lifelong friend. I am imagining that this film accurately depicts the relationship between the two men; many biographers agree with this film that the relationship between the two was more than friendship. I simply thought that the film focused excessively on this aspect of Hoover's life rather than other more interesting aspects. I would have liked to have seen even more depictions of Hoover blackmailing American politicians and exercising the unwholesome excessive power that he wielded in American political life for decades. There is a fair amount of that in this film, but more would have been better. Hoover's feud with the CIA is another avenue that could have been explored more. Just my opinion.

This is a solid film that captures at least in part the life of a complex man who history is still in the process of judging. Recommended. RJB.
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