It is predictable that J. Edgar takes a less than favorable approach to J. Edgar Hoover, founder and director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Hollywood never did embrace anti-communist stalwarts. However, this production’s treatment of Hoover is somewhat surprising seeing as it was directed by Clint Eastwood, typically a more conservative-minded presence in Hollywood. J. Edgar is expectedly an entertaining and engaging film, given the impeccable cast and direction, but its somewhat unfair depiction of Hoover undermines its overall quality.
The film’s intent is clear when one reads its synopsis: “As the face of law enforcement in America for almost 50 years, J. Edgar Hoover was feared and admired, reviled and revered. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life.” The movie examines the public and private life of Hoover, played by the talented Leonardo DiCaprio. Hoover is portrayed as a man who has allowed absolute power to corrupt him. Shifting back and forth between past and present, J. Edgar examines the news behind the news stories.
The film begins with the 77-year-old Hoover regaling his biography writers of his “side of the story” (which began in 1919) with the Palmer raids against anarchists and other radicals. The scene underscores the notion that too much power in the hands of ruthless or corrupt individuals can lead to unchecked violations of liberty, and seemingly presents Hoover as one of those ruthless individuals. In Hoover’s version of the story, he justifies his crackdown of the radicals, asserting, “Sometimes you need to bend the rules a little to keep our country safe.”
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