Tuesday, 24 January 2012

J. Edgar (Warner Brothers - 2011)

This Warner Brothers film is an almost monochrome character study, as you might expect from Clint Eastwood. Nevertheless the film presents an illuminating portrait of the FBI's first director J. Edgar Hoover played by Leonardo DiCaprio

Clint Eastwood's technique, the low lighting and the lonesome piano music, is a welcome break from the heroic mayhem and uproar that is Hollywood's standard fare.

Eastwood's G-men in action were presented as black and white cinema newsreel and as comics and cartoons on breakfast cereal packets.

The film concentrated on the three loves of J. Edgar Hoover the first director of the FBI. His first and greatest love was his mother: ". . . the only person I can trust." His second love was the FBI; his FBI. His third love was his same sex partner.

But of course Hoover is better known for his hates than for his loves. His passionate hate being Communism and its undermining of the United States. If he claimed that the United States was his first love that would be false. He had a love-hate relationship with his country. He hated its Presidents. He hated its negroes. He hated Martin Luther King: "He is a communist!"

DiCaprio's J. Edgar is a classic Mutter Söhnchen - an ambitious and sexually frustrated man dominated and overwhelmed by his mother; the pair of them driven and obsessed.

So what happens when such a personality reaches the pinnacle of power? And how does he get there in the first place? These questions are put under the microscope.

The story of J. Edgar Hoover is dictated by himself in his later years for the record as he would have it presented. The film is therefore liberally sprinkled with Hoover's own quotes.

Of course, Hoover's memories are his own slanted versions of events; a mixture of fact and fiction. They are less than the truth. They are his own hero worship and glorification of himself as the greatest of the G-Men. And when he falls he short, as he often does, there is always be someone else to blame. J. Edgar is a fraud; a man unable to face his own failings.

On the other side of the balance sheet there are stories of passionate love, sacrifice and great loyalty. The finale of one of these remarkable stories is revealed shortly after Richard Nixon gains power. Needless to say, the FBI chief seriously hated Nixon; a man not to be trusted: "I saw it in his eyes."

J. Edgar would never release his control of his FBI. He clung in there like a madman possessed, even when desperately ill.

Why such devotion and dedication? Why not hand over the reins of control and enjoy more of those wonderful days at the horse race meetings?

"You can't trust anyone in Washington DC!" is J. Edgar's short answer. They would take over control and he would never allow them to do that.

But the film is about more than J. Edgar Hoover; it touches upon a nation's obsession with its overwhelming sense of insecurity. At the end I couldn't help thinking that Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar was a metaphor for what is going on in America today.

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