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







Casimir: Casimir, born of kings and in line (third among 13 children) to be a king himself, was filled with exceptional values and learning by a great teacher, John Dlugosz. Even his critics could not say that his conscientious objection indicated softness. Even as a teenager, Casimir lived a highly disciplined, even severe life, sleeping on the ground, spending a great part of the night in prayer and dedicating himself to lifelong celibacy. 
<p>When nobles in Hungary became dissatisfied with their king, they prevailed upon Casimir’s father, the king of Poland, to send his son to take over the country. Casimir obeyed his father, as many young men over the centuries have obeyed their government. The army he was supposed to lead was clearly outnumbered by the “enemy”; some of his troops were deserting because they were not paid. At the advice of his officers, Casimir decided to return home. </p><p>His father was irked at the failure of his plans, and confined his 15-year-old son for three months. The lad made up his mind never again to become involved in the wars of his day, and no amount of persuasion could change his mind. He returned to prayer and study, maintaining his decision to remain celibate even under pressure to marry the emperor’s daughter. </p><p>He reigned briefly as king of Poland during his father’s absence. He died of lung trouble at 23 while visiting Lithuania, of which he was also Grand Duke. He was buried in Vilnius, Lithuania.</p> American Catholic Blog We renew and deepen our dedication to God and express that by sacrificing something meaningful to us. But as we go about our fasting and almsgiving, let’s not forget to give him some extra time in prayer.


 
CATHOLIC GREETINGS
Lent
In this season of penance, may we put aside those things that keep us from the Lord.

St. Katharine Drexel
This Philadelphia heiress dedicated her life to the care and education of Native American and African-American children.

Feliz Cumpleaños
Spanish-speaking friends will appreciate your thoughtfulness in finding a birthday e-card in Spanish!

Second Sunday in Lent
Lent invites us to open our hearts, minds and bodies to the grace of rebirth.

Thank You
Catholic Greetings offers an assortment of blank e-cards for various occasions.




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 - 2015