Clint Eastwood has become known as a director that can present a gritty historical drama that pulls no punches and sheds new light on events that are as important and relevant now as when they first took place. Teaming with lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio, this film has all the makings of yet another award winner even with subject matter that may be a little controversial.
The life of J. Edgar Hoover is not one that is widely known especially now that more than a couple generations have gone by. Portrayed as a man driven by success and loyal to his belief Mr. Hoover was a man of distinction and moral character and sought the same qualities in anyone working under his watch.
He demanded that everyone look and act in a professional manner at all times given the importance of the duties they carried out and created a persona that some feared but most respected. Always at odds with other branches of government, he treated his work as a crusade against communism and refused to settle for less than he felt was needed to win. This was a man driven by the power of his mission and ultimately that power lead to the use of deceit and espionage to maintain every advantage.
What no one else saw was a man dealing with issues so personal that he could at times only confide in his mother, who he loved more than anyone, and even then had personal demons he dare not reveal even to her. Over the course of the movie, we see who this man truly was, or at least who the film makers are portraying him to be. There is an ongoing narrative by an elder Hoover as he dictates his life story to a series of authors that will create a biography chronicling his career and the formative years of the FBI.
What becomes confusing with this narrative is that it often contradicts what actually happened and we later learn that what we just saw in a particular scene may not have been true at all. As these contradictions piled up, I began to question whether this was a biography or an outright work of fiction. Towards the end, I gave up trying to decipher what might be fact, and what might be fiction or exaggeration and began to wonder why I was watching this movie at all.
It seems as if this was intended to be an important film for people to see based on the dramatic tone that it contains, but the odd mix of supposedly biographical content mixed with an almost Oliver Stone type of flair for wanting to reveal controversy and conspiracy lead only to confusion and even a few unintentional chuckles by the audience. J. Edgar ends up being an awkward and confusing film that unfortunately falls far short of what I'm sure was supposed to be a powerful if not educational experience.