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Vol. LXV, No. 46
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
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Cinema

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

EVEN THOUGH YOU MADE MY LIFE A LIVING HELL, I STILL LOVE YOU: J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio, right) sits at his mother’s (Judi Dench) deathbed. Even though she may have played an important role in his homosexual orientation by forbidding his desires to dress in women’s clothing as he was growing up, Hoover is mourning the impending death of his mother.

J. Edgar:Biopic Uncovers Skeletons in Closet of Legendary FBI Director

Kam Williams

J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) served as director of the FBI from its founding in 1935 until his death in 1972. During his tenure, the legendary G-man singlehandedly built the agency into an intimidating espionage and crime-fighting operation that was feared by gangsters and law-abiding citizens.

As Hoover’s powers and spheres of influence expanded, he began directing his agents to spy not only on crooks and racketeers but on anyone he considered un-American, such as members of civil rights and anti-war organizations. Armed with information collected with a variety of arguably unconstitutional surveillance techniques, he proceeded to amass files of personal information on individuals which he used to blackmail, embarrass, or threaten whomever he considered to be his enemy.

Interestingly enough, while he had no problem exposing skeletons in other people’s closets, Hoover apparently went to great lengths to hide his own clandestine relationship with his constant companion of over 40 years, his deputy director Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Successfully suppressing the occasional rumors that they might be lovers, the couple was finally outed posthumously by New York City socialite Susan Rosenstiel.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, J. Edgar is a deliberately paced biopic which gradually builds support for the claim that Hoover was a sexually-repressed drag queen. The movie blames his sexual proclivities on his overbearing mother (Dame Judi Dench), who had cruelly discouraged him as a youngster from exploring his curiosity about cross-dressing by issuing such warnings as, “I’d rather have a dead son than a daffodil for a son.”

The film unfolds as a series of flashbacks which highlight some of the FBI’s most celebrated cases, such as the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, the bloody showdown with mobster John Dillinger, and the monitoring of the movements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The movie also shows Hoover and his life-mate secretly sharing stolen moments, such as holding hands in the back of a limo, whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears, or engaging in sexual acts.

Narrated by the title character, J. Edgar is in sharp contrast to the many previous screen portrayals of Hoover that had studiously avoided the sexual preference question. Credit iconoclastic Clint Eastwood for bringing a more balanced treatment to the screen, even if the shocking truth about such a tortured soul is apt to make audiences squirm in their seats.

Very Good (***). Rated R for brief profanity. Running time: 137 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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