By Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial masterpiece is a biopic
about J. Edgar Hoover (1895 - 1972) with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead
role. Hoover directed the Federal Bureau
of Investigation for 48 years and, according to the film, was a virtual
demigod, a hybrid of a government servant who served his own ego above all.
The film shows aspects of American history few are probably
familiar with such as the Palmer Raids carried out under the direction of
Attorney General Alexander Palmer, “The Fighting Quaker” to qualm activities of
anarchists, real (bombings did occur) or perceived, between 1919 and 1921. It
was one of the first times the Justice Department acted against theoretical
threats and ideas, something that Hoover would continue using illegal wiretaps
and other means to protect the country as he thought was needed.
Hoover saw socialism and communism everywhere.
Much of the film is dedicated to the kidnapping of the
18-month old son of Charles (Josh Lucas) and Ann Morrow Lindberg and the scorn
with which the New Jersey State Police treated Hoover’s belief in forensic
science to solve crimes. If there is one thing that Hoover did that remains a
huge civil and cultural influence today, it is in the area of forensics. There
would be no CSI or legal programs without his groundbreaking work in forensics
and centralizing the data. Ideally, this
kind of information could catch criminals as well as, hypothetically, clear the
innocent. He also envisioned a national identity card, though even today, this
idea is not acceptable to U.S. Citizens because of privacy issues. To Hoover,
his vision of national security tempted the Constitution and all civil rights.
The film shows Hoovers close relationship with his secretary
of more than fifty years, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts). He trusted her above
everyone as some say because they were both “married” to the Bureau. She
destroyed many files upon his death and insisted none were official, though
Hoover was known to have kept personal files on many people. He best friend and
colleague was Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), with whom some think Hoover had a
homosexual relationship. Tolson was Hoover’s deputy and they took vacations
together; neither married. No one knows for sure what Hoover’s sexual
orientation was, he was most certainly repressed, but the film seems to
represent that his mother (Judy Dench) had a dominant influence on him in all
ways and deterred him from a sexual relationship with a man. He lived with his
mother until her death.
The story is told in a non-linear style, moving back and
forth between the years, editing the young and aging the characters in an
almost seamless fashion. The film is
surely going to be recognized for make-up and costume design.
DiCaprio is brilliant, as usual, and inhabits his character
completely. Armie Hammer as Tolson often tries to reign in Hoovers zeal, and is
a loyal yet vulnerable friend though Hoover’s fastidious pride almost never
allows empathy. The script by Dustin Lance Black is complex and crisp.
Eastwood’s vision is interesting because he is commenting on
American individualism taken to the extreme of almost unbridled power that
neither elected or appointed government officials could regulate.
Eastwood never strays far from the Western myth
and the consequences of accepting it without question.
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