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Clint Eastwood is one of Hollywood’s top movie directors. He’s directed (and starred in) many movies; from the great, redefining-the-genre western The Outlaw Josey Wales, the Oscar-winning Unforgiven, the preposterous Million Dollar Baby and the brilliant Gran Torino to such underwhelming fare as Invictus, Space Cowboys and Hereafter.
He’s added to his oeuvre with J. Edgar, a biopic of the late FBI Director. J. Edgar is a complete mess. Instead of the usual guns-blazing-G-man-gets-his man tripe, J. Edgar is a weird, tepid love story. With only passing nods to the many significant events of the Director’s 48 years at the helm of the agency, the movie’s focus is on an anti-social, damaged man who lives with his controlling, passive/aggressive mother until she dies and who finds love of a sort with Clyde Tolson, a subordinate he promotes to his top aide and lifelong companion.
The story revolves around the Hoover/Tolson relationship. The many egregious assaults on civil liberties that Hoover conducted get slight attention – the deportation of Emma Goldman, the veiled threats towards the Kennedys, the outright blackmail efforts against Martin Luther King, the infiltration and misinformation campaigns against Labor, Black, and anti-war student activists, the secret blackmail files,…all are reduced to background noise to Hoover’s tortured personal life.
Even the fellows’ sex life is watered down to the point of ambiguity. While focusing on surreptitious hand-holding, a couple of kisses and “I love yous,” no mention is made of famed gangster Meyer Lansky’s claim to have comprising photos of Hoover and Tolson; or of the great FBI blackmailer’s being blackmailed over it himself by Lanksy, who notably remained free of jail until his death in 1983. Nor is there any mention of CIA Counter-Intelligence chief James Angleton’s showing around compromising photos to CIA pals. CIA expert Gordon Novel later claimed, “What I saw was a picture of him giving Clyde Tolson a blowjob. There was more than one shot, but the startling one was a close shot of Hoover’s head. He was totally recognizable”
There is some decent acting; I imagine Armie Hammer, Armand Hammer’s great-grandson, who plays Tolson will get, at minimum, an Oscar nomination; perhaps, Leonardo DiCaprio’s inanimate, near comatose Hoover – miles from the volcanic Hoover of legend – will also get some recognition. But, talk about missing the point! J. Edgar Hoover’s tortured, closeted personal life really is insignificant to the real history of this anti-democratic monster.
After 48 years of despotic, anti-American rule with dozens of interesting sub-plots – not the least of which is Hoover’s complicity in the rise of the American Police State – this movie could not be further off the mark, nor more frivolous in its efforts to humanize a tyrant who destroyed so many, innocent lives. Ultimately, J. Edgar is as absurd as, and comparable to, the Adolph/Eva love story featured in the Bollywood fiasco Dear Friend Hitler – a real-life Springtime for Hitler.
MICHAEL DONNELLY lives in Salem, OR. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org