Clint Eastwood’s new movie J. Edgar, as its intimate title suggests, is more than anything else a character study of the FBI director, spanning the years 1919 to 1972. While the film touches upon various significant episodes in Hoover’s career, from the First Red Scare of 1919-20 to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the script by Dustin Lance Black, a gay writer and activist (responsible for the screenplay for Milk ), concentrates on the FBI chief’s personality and personal relations.
Despite a bravura performance by Leonardo DiCaprio as Hoover and the obvious attention paid in certain segments to getting details right, the film meanders across the century, seemingly uncertain of (or perhaps shamefaced about) its central themes and, in the end, oddly apolitical, despite its intensely political subject matter. Eastwood apparently means to pay tribute to Hoover as a relentless policeman and defender of the American order, but the final portrait is hardly a flattering one and J. Edgar will surely not win many new admirers for its central figure or the FBI.
As the film opens, Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio), nearing the end of his life, is dictating his memoirs, a plot device that allows J. Edgar to move back and forth in time in an effort to create a psychological profile of the man and, to a decidedly lesser extent, a picture of his times.