AmericanCatholic.org
 
Skip Navigation Links
Home
Catholic News
Saints
Seasonal
Special Reports
Movies
Shopping
Donate
Share:
Facebook
Twitter
Google Plus
LinkedIn
Email
RSS Feeds
ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

J. Edgar

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Over a career that began during World War I and endured almost until the era of Watergate, famed founding director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972) battled communists, gangsters, Nazi spies, the Kennedys, the civil rights movement and (albeit reluctantly) the Mafia.

That's a lot of time and a lot of conflict for one movie, which is perhaps why "J. Edgar" (Warner Bros.)—Clint Eastwood's biographical drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the G-man many love to hate—registers, ultimately, as polished but taxing. All the more so since an attempt to reconstruct Hoover's enigmatic personal life, a subject of much gossip then and considerable controversy now, is thrown into the mix as well.

As scripted by Dustin Lance Black, the film informatively chronicles Hoover's rise from obscure bureaucrat to power-besotted keeper of the nation's secrets.

Yet its exploration of the three main relationships in Hoover's life—with his domineering mother, Annie (Judi Dench), his girlfriend-turned-secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), and his No. 2 at the bureau, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer)—feels sensationalized at times. A case in point: a fistfight between Hoover and Tolson that consummates in a kiss.

Let it be noted, however that said stolen smooch—more or less exacted by Tolson from a surprised, if not necessarily unwilling, Hoover—is the furthest extent of physical intimacy between the two men portrayed on screen.

There's certainly a lot of pent-up tension between them; the dust-up, for instance, results from Tolson's jealous rage over Hoover's romance with Hollywood glamour girl Hedy Lamarr. And there's also the occasional, ambiguous pat on the hand. But whether their well-documented daily companionship over several decades extended into the bedroom is left up to viewers to decide.

Given that Black also penned 2008's "Milk," it may not be unfair to ask whether this aspect of a historical figure's life is being exploited to advance a contemporary political agenda. Hoover's self-justifying rhetoric in defense of his crime-fighting methods, for instance, does invite reflection on the current debate about the balance between national security and individual liberty. But the idea that his (apparently) conflicted sexuality can serve as a weapon in today's culture wars seems strained.

As depicted here, Hoover is too idiosyncratic, and decidedly too unsympathetic, to be co-opted as an icon of gay victimization—authentic or otherwise.

Steely mom Annie voices a horrifying preference for a dead son over one exposed as a homosexual, and Tolson frequently plays the role of Hoover's conscience on issues of FBI policy. Yet there's no suggestion that if Annie—and society at large—would just have lightened up, Tolson and Hoover could somehow have walked hand in hand into a lavender sunset and found peace together.

Questions of advocacy aside, "J. Edgar" includes material calculated to make it uncomfortable viewing even for mature audience members. The gothic nature of Hoover's filial situation, for instance, reaches a climax in a scene, set after Annie's death, that—mildly at least—evokes Anthony Perkins' interaction with his memorable screen mom in that Victorian fixer-upper above the Bates Motel.

The film contains brief intense but bloodless violence, a scene of semi-graphic adultery, homosexual and transvestite themes, a same-sex kiss, at least one use of profanity and a couple of rough terms. The Catholic News Service classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



Search reviews at CatholicMovieReviews.org


Thank you for your comments. Editors will review all posts before they are visible on the website.

blog comments powered by Disqus







Paul of the Cross: 
		<p>Born in northern Italy in 1694, Paul Daneo lived at a time when many regarded Jesus as a great moral teacher but no more. After a brief time as a soldier, he turned to solitary prayer, developing a devotion to Christ’s passion. Paul saw in the Lord’s passion a demonstration of God’s love for all people. In turn that devotion nurtured his compassion and supported a preaching ministry that touched the hearts of many listeners. He was known as one of the most popular preachers of his day, both for his words and for his generous acts of mercy. </p>
		<p>In 1720 Paul founded the Congregation of the Passion, whose members combined devotion to Christ’s passion with preaching to the poor and rigorous penances. Known as the Passionists, they add a fourth vow to the traditional three of poverty, chastity, and obedience, to spread the memory of Christ’s passion among the faithful. Paul was elected superior general of the Congregation in 1747, spending the remainder of his life in Rome. </p>
		<p>Paul of the Cross died in 1775, and was canonized in 1867. Over 2000 of his letters and several of his short writings have survived. </p>
American Catholic Blog Always bear in mind as a safe general rule that while God tries us by His crosses and sufferings, He always leaves us a glimmer of light by which we continue to have great trust in him and to recognize His immense goodness.

 
PICKS OF THE WEEK
Fearless
Learn about the saints of America: missionaries, martyrs, bishops, heiresses, nuns, and natives who gave their lives to build our Church and our country.
New Seeds of Contemplation
One of the best-loved books by one of the greatest spiritual writers of our time!
Catholics, Wake Up!
“A total spiritual knockout!” – Fr. Donald Calloway
Zealous
New from Servant! Follow Jesus with the same kind of zeal that Paul had, guided by Mark Hart and Christopher Cuddy!
Thomas Merton
"Padovano's presentation of Thomas Merton is second to none." —Paul M. Pearson, director, Thomas Merton Center

 
CATHOLIC GREETINGS
Birthday
You have the heart and soul of a child of God, no matter how long you've been around.
World Mission Sunday
The Church in North America sprang from the blood of martyrs such as this missionary and his companions.
St. Luke
Author of two books of the New Testament, this Evangelist’s primary audience was Gentile Christians like himself.
St. Gerard Majella
Many expectant mothers are comforted by the assurance of this saint’s prayers of intercession.
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
This 17th-century French nun helped to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.



Come find us at: Facebook | St. Anthony Messenger magazine Twitter | American Catholic YouTube | American Catholic


An AmericanCatholic.org Site from the Franciscans and Franciscan Media Copyright © 1996 - 2014