J. Edgar (2011)
Dir: Clint Eastwood
“It’s time this generation learn my side of the story”
This is a biopic of the director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover (played by Leonardo DiCaprio). He’s not a historical figure I have much knowledge of, and I’m not convinced that this film really gives his side of the story as suggested by that line of dialogue.
Firstly there’s far too much crammed into this film’s storyline to go into, but it flits back and forth at different points in Hoover’s career from a young man in his 20’s working for the justice department, right through his time as the head of the FBI, to his death aged 77. Within that time he brought about huge changes, essentially setting up the FBI, then getting it the powers required to be effective. The film also touches on his personal life, with his mother (Judi Dench) lifetime personal secretary (Naomi Watts) and close friend and suggested lover (Armie Hammer).
As a character, Hoover is interesting, but by taking such a huge time frame and trying to put so much into the film, I think it loses the ability to be really captivating. His role as the director of the FBI was certainly a difficult one, and as the film shows it included working against communism, radicalism, gangsters, presidents, and looking for the kidnapped Lindbergh baby. Any one of those aspects would have been enough to focus in on and dramatise in greater detail, but by trying to show parts of all and make this a complete biopic of his entire career plus all the complexities of his private life there’s insufficient time given to each part and therefore leaves nothing standing out.
The other problem with that is that while the viewer is trying to make sense of all the different parts of the narrative while jumping about the different times, no real heart is given to the main character. Though DiCaprio plays the part well, there’s no great connection formed and I felt like I never sided with Hoover, at times even quite taking a dislike to him, and feeling like there were other characters or stories I would have like to see more of instead.