Tuesday, March 27, 2012
J. Edgar - A Look at the 1930s
First off, I know little or nothing about the life of J. Edgar Hoover, important reformer of the F.B.I. So I have no idea if there are any inconsistencies in the film about the man. Regardless, though, I do know a little bit about the 1920s and 1930s and some of the major events. Like the tracking down of notorious criminals like Baby Face Nelson and the infmaous John Dillinger, Public Enemy #1 himself. I also knew that the Charles Lindberg baby had been kidnapped and killed. So, really, the stories within the story of J. Edgar fascinated me more than the man himself.
As we all know, Leonardo Dicaprio was nominated for yet another Academy Award for his performance as J. Edgar Hoover and he was once again spurned by the Academy. Only this time I could halfway understand why. It's nothing against Leo's performance but the movie itself proved to be rather dull. I guess you could say that J. Edgar himself, despite being such an eccentric man, was almost uninteresting in the way he interacted with others. Or it could just be that I still have stars in my eyes from loving The Aviator so much. That movie was brilliant and Leo should have been awarded an Oscar for his performance as Howard Hughes.
The life of J. Edgar is split in half for this movie. You have old Edgar who is essentially writing his memoirs and then you have young Edgar actually experiencing those memoirs. Young Edgar reshapes the F.B.I. for the purpose of actually catching criminals. He developed a fingerprint and criminal database which had been unheard of until that point and he even went so far as to pick agents who were emotionally unattached to others so they could perform their jobs to the best of their ability. They could use guns now, which was unusual, and that was how they won the battle against the mobsters. J. Edgar Hoover really is the one to thank for the great institution America has today that is known as the F.B.I.
But it wasn't all wine and roses. Edgar had something of an arrogant power complex going on too. Hence the birth of his private files. I'd thought those things were just a myth, but apparently not. This essentially means that for every person in power in the United States, Edgar had a file of compromising information on them. His paranoia strengthened as he aged to the point where he believed Martin Luther King Jr. was a potential threat to America and tried to blackmail him into stepping away from the public eye. Or at least, so the movie goes. As I said, I know nothing about J. Edgar's life so this could be a load of lies.
What intrigued me most though was how J. Edgar Hoover was portrayed as a lonely and isolated man who was socially inept. He desired human companionship but it always felt like his mouth just couldn't get out the right words to comunicate with others. His closest friends were his secretary who he had once proposed to and his second-in-command Clyde who the film portrays as as possible love interest for Edgar. Nothing happens outside a kiss after a fight and then wrestling on the floor, but it does plant the curiosity of Edgar's sexuality in your mind. Like I said, I don't know details of him personally.
The movie was . . . sad. It was brilliantly filmed but bouncing between a successful Edgar and an Edgar who was losing his popularity with the government was really hard to watch. Even painful. He went one step too far by trying to control Nixon and if he hadn't died of a heart attack first it's likely Edgar would have been forced to resign from the F.B.I. His life is so depressing, made more so because of his view of the world. Edgar imagined himself more involved in individual cases than he had actually been. Everyone remembers how it was Agent Purvis that stopped John Dillinger. J. Edgar was jealous of Purvis' success and punished him for it. He was a very selfish man but with his upbringing and the fierce expectations placed upon him by his mother, I'm not so sure he could have turned out to be anything else.
There's a little language in the movie, but not enough to raise a lot of complaints. Barely enough F words to make it an R rating, really. I will say, though, that I'm now curious about the life of J. Edgar Hoover and will track down some books to help me decipher what is real and what is fiction in regards to this great American icon.