As Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar opens with Leonardo DiCaprio’s narration, I gulp. Uh oh, Leo with an accent? This can’t be good. But boy oh boy did he prove me wrong. Growing Pains star no more, DiCaprio nailed it this time, proving his absolute brilliance as an actor. Man, I feel old.
While in the 30’s and 40’s J. Edgar Hoover, first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, may have appeared a badass figure to young boys looking for a hero to emulate on their cereal boxes, Hoover was indeed much more of a complicated soul and the film strips him down to the bone.
In the beginning, the movie portrays Hoover as a conservative man, a hater of radicals, and someone determined to fight for the sake of protecting his country. But unlike other films that may serve mostly to either glorify historical figures or break them down, this one ascribes to neither dualism. We are shown Hoover’s dependence on his mother, his vain insecurities, and his possible deep affection for another man.
In fact, I left the film with another important question, why do we laugh at what makes us uncomfortable? And why are we still uncomfortable with homosexuality?
Perhaps unexpected, writer Dustin Lance Black inserts humor into the writing with homo-erotic innuendo between the characters of Hoover and his associate director Clyde Tolson (played by Armie Hammer). But where I found discomforting laughter from the audience was during a heart wrenching scene where Tolson and Hoover engage in a blowout argument ending with a kiss. I was ready to weep while the audience let out a snicker. Why is this funny people? It seems we’re still at a point where we can’t see the situation for what it is: two people that are in love and are forced to repress it, instead of two dudes kissing–OH MY!
If it makes people uncomfortable then so be it. Better that than to affirm every macho stereotype that Hollywood seems to endlessly recreate, or to keep homosexuality hidden.
This story really proves the point that life can be contradictory. That people don’t always fit one rigid formula. That there isn’t always order when it comes to human nature. Rather than soiling us with hatred for Hoover’s uptight attitude, DiCaprio sheds light on his true mortality, and that in fact what Hoover seemed to be more afraid of than illegal aliens or gangsters was himself. The poor man had a burning inner struggle, and he used his work to wage that war.
In the end the film does a good job at forcing you to sympathize with this old man in some form or another, not for lying on record, breaching his authority with secret files, or his paranoia, but for his shared humanity and perhaps for pursuing what he believed in regardless of constant ridicule from other societal figures. After all, had he backed down we probably wouldn’t have fingerprinting.
Anyone smell an oscar?