J. Edgar

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J. Edgar
J. Edgar Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Produced by
Written by Dustin Lance Black
Starring
Music by Clint Eastwood
Cinematography Tom Stern
Edited by
Production
company
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • November 3, 2011 (2011-11-03) (AFI Film Festival)
  • November 11, 2011 (2011-11-11) (United States)
Running time
137 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $35 million[2]
Box office $84.6 million[3]

J. Edgar is a 2011 American biographical drama film directed, co-produced, and scored by Clint Eastwood.[4] Written by Dustin Lance Black, the film focuses on the career of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover from the Palmer Raids onwards.

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas, Judi Dench and Ed Westwick. J. Edgar opened the AFI Fest 2011 in Los Angeles on November 3, 2011, and had its limited release on November 9, followed by wide release on November 11.

Plot summary[edit]

The film opens with J. Edgar Hoover in his office during his later years. He talks to Agent Smith in order to tell the story of the origin of the FBI for the sake of the public. In 1919 A. Mitchell Palmer was Attorney General and Hoover's boss at the Justice Department when anarchists attempted to assassinate him by bombing his house, but the bomb explodes earlier than intended and he was not harmed. Hoover realized that criminal science was needed to handle such cases. Palmer puts him in charge of a new anti-radical division, at a time when even the Boston Police Department has been on strike, and the public fears immigrant anarchists. Hoover quickly began compiling a list of suspected radicals. He has a meeting with Helen Gandy, a new secretary at the Justice Department. Hoover takes Gandy to the Library of Congress, and shows her the card catalog system he devised. He makes an awkward pass at her, then proposes to her. She refuses him but agrees to become his personal secretary.

Despite his close monitoring of suspected foreign radicals, Hoover finds that the Department of Labor refuses to deport anyone without clear evidence of a crime. Learning that Anthony Caminetti, the Commissioner General of Immigration, dislikes the prominent anarchist Emma Goldman, Hoover arranges to discredit her marriage and make her eligible for deportation to her native Russia even though she is a naturalized American citizen. He creates a precedent of deportation for radical conspiracy. After several Justice Department raids of suspected radical groups, many leading to deportation of foreign nationals, Palmer loses his job as Attorney General. Under his successor Harlan F. Stone, Hoover is appointed as director of the Justice Department's new Bureau of Investigation. He meets Clyde Tolson, a new lawyer, and soon interviews and hires him.

The Bureau pursues a string of gangster and bank robbery crimes across the Midwest, including the high profile John Dillinger, with general success. When the Lindbergh kidnapping captures national attention, President Herbert Hoover asks the Bureau to investigate. Hoover employs several novel techniques, including the monitoring of registration numbers on ransom bills, and expert analysis of the kidnapper's handwriting. The founding of the FBI Crime Lab is seen as a product of Hoover's determination to analyze the homemade wooden ladder left at the crime scene. When the monitored bills begin showing up in New York City, the investigators find a filling station attendant who wrote down the license plate number of the man who gave him the bill. This leads to the arrest, and eventual conviction, of Bruno Richard Hauptmann for the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh child.

After Hoover, Tolson, and Hoover's mother attend a showing of the James Cagney film G Men, Hoover and Tolson decide to go out to a club, where Hoover is seated with Anita Colby, Ginger Rogers, and Rogers's mother Lela. When Colby asks Hoover if he ever wishes he had someone to keep him warm at night, he responds that he has dedicated his life to the bureau. Ginger's mother asks Hoover to dance and he becomes agitated, saying that he and Tolson must leave, as they have a lot of work to do in the morning. When he gets home he shares his dislike of dancing with girls with his mother, and she tells him she would rather have a dead son than a "daffodil" for a son. She insists on teaching him to dance, and they dance in her bedroom. Soon after, Hoover and Tolson go on a vacation to the horse races. That evening, Hoover tells Tolson that he cares deeply for him, and Tolson returns the feeling by stating that he loves Hoover. However, Hoover claims to be considering marriage to a young woman twenty years his junior, Dorothy Lamour, whom he has been seeing in New York City, provoking outrage from Tolson.

Tolson accuses Hoover making a fool out of him; they trade insults and punches, ending up fighting on the floor. Tolson suddenly kisses Hoover, who says that must never happen again; Tolson says that it won't, and tries to leave. Hoover apologizes and begs him to stay, but Tolson threatens to end their friendship if Hoover talks about another woman again. He leaves, with Hoover professing love for him moments after.

Years later, Hoover feels his strength begin to decline. He requires daily visits by a doctor. Tolson suffers a stroke and is severely weakened. Believing that he heard Martin Luther King, Jr. engage in extramarital sex, Hoover tries to blackmail the civil rights leader into declining his Nobel Peace Prize, sending him a letter threatening to expose his sexual life. King disregards this and accepts the prize.

Considering his mortality, Hoover tells Helen Gandy to destroy his secret files if he were to die, in order to prevent President Richard Nixon from possessing them. When he visits Tolson, the younger man urges him to retire. Hoover refuses, claiming that Nixon is going to destroy the bureau he has created. Tolson accuses Hoover of having exaggerated his involvement with key events of the Bureau. Moments later, Hoover tells Tolson that he needed him, more than he ever needed anyone else. He holds his hand, kisses his forehead, and leaves.

In the last passage, Hoover returns home from work, obviously weakened. Shortly after he goes upstairs, Tolson is called by Hoover's housekeeper. He goes to the house and finds Hoover dead next to his bed. Obviously grieving, he covers the man's body. Nixon gives a memorial speech on television for Hoover, while several members of his staff enter Hoover's office and search through the cabinets and drawers in search of his rumored "personal and confidential" files, but find nothing. In the last scene, Helen Gandy is seen destroying stacks of files.

Cast[edit]

Charlize Theron, who was originally slated to play Helen Gandy, dropped out of the project to do Snow White and the Huntsman, and Eastwood considered Amy Adams before finally selecting Naomi Watts as Theron's replacement.[12]

Release[edit]

Critical response[edit]

Reviews have been mostly mixed, with many critics praising DiCaprio's performance but feeling that, overall, the film lacks coherence. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 43% of 220 critics have given the film a positive review with a rating average of 5.7 out of 10. The website's consensus is that, "Leonardo DiCaprio gives a predictably powerhouse performance, but J. Edgar stumbles in all other departments: cheesy makeup, poor lighting, confusing narrative, and humdrum storytelling."[16] Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 59 based on 42 reviews.[17]

Roger Ebert awarded the film three-and-a-half stars (out of four) and wrote that the film is "fascinating", "masterful", and praised DiCaprio's performance as a "fully-realized, subtle and persuasive performance, hinting at more than Hoover ever revealed, perhaps even to himself".[18] Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a positive review, writing, "This surprising collaboration between director Clint Eastwood and Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black tackles its trickiest challenges with plausibility and good sense, while serving up a simmeringly caustic view of its controversial subject's behavior, public and private."[19] David Denby in The New Yorker magazine also liked the film, calling it a "nuanced account" and calling "Eastwood's touch light and sure, his judgment sound, the moments of pathos held just long enough."[20]

J. Hoberman of The Village Voice wrote: "Although hardly flawless, Eastwood's biopic is his richest, most ambitious movie since the Letters from Iwo Jima-Flags of Our Fathers."[21]

Peter Debruge of Variety gave the film a mixed review: "Any movie in which the longtime FBI honcho features as the central character must supply some insight into what made him tick, or suffer from the reality that the Bureau's exploits were far more interesting than the bureaucrat who ran it – a dilemma J. Edgar never rises above."[22] David Edelstein of New York Magazine reacted negatively to the film and said: "It's too bad J. Edgar is so shapeless and turgid and ham-handed, so rich in bad lines and worse readings." He praised DiCaprio's performance: "There’s something appealingly straightforward about the way he physicalizes Hoover's inner struggle, the body always slightly out of sync with the mind that vigilantly monitors every move."[23]

Box office[edit]

The film opened limited in 7 theaters on November 9, grossing $52,645,[24] and released wide on November 11, grossing $11,217,324 on its opening weekend,[25] approximating the $12 million figure projected by the Los Angeles Times for the film's opening weekend in the United States and Canada.[2] J. Edgar went on to gross $84 million worldwide. Breakdowns of audience demographics for the movie showed that ticket buyers were nearly 95% over the age of 25 and slightly over 50% female.

Accolades[edit]

List of awards and nominations
Date of ceremony Award Category Recipient(s) Result
January 27, 2012 AACTA Awards[26] Best Actor – International Leonardo DiCaprio Nominated
December 11, 2011 American Film Institute[27] Top 10 Films J. Edgar Won
January 12, 2012 Broadcast Film Critics Association[28] Best Actor Leonardo DiCaprio Nominated
January 15, 2012 Golden Globe Awards[29] Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Nominated
December 1, 2011 National Board of Review[30] Top Ten Films J. Edgar Won
December 18, 2011 Satellite Awards[31] Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Leonardo DiCaprio Nominated
January 29, 2012 Screen Actors Guild Awards[32] Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role Nominated
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role Armie Hammer Nominated

Historical accuracy[edit]

In an interview on All Things Considered, Yale University history professor Beverly Gage, who is writing a biography of Hoover, stated that the film accurately conveys that Hoover came to the FBI as a reformer seeking "to clean it up, to professionalize it", and to introduce scientific methods to its investigation, eventually including such practices as finger-printing and blood-typing. She praises DiCaprio for conveying the tempo of Hoover's speech. However, she notes that the film's central narrative device, in which Hoover dictates his memoirs to FBI agents chosen as writers, is fictitious: "He didn't ever have the sort of formal situation that you see in the movie where he was dictating a memoir to a series of young agents, and that that is the official record of the FBI."[33] The historian Aaron J. Stockham of the Waterford School, whose dissertation was on the relationship of the FBI and the US Congress during the Hoover years, wrote on the History News Network of George Mason University, "J. Edgar portrays Hoover as the man who successfully integrated scientific processes into law enforcement investigations.... There is no doubt, from the historical record, that Hoover was instrumental in creating the FBI's scientific reputation."[34] Stockham notes that Hoover probably did not write the FBI's notorious letter to Martin Luther King, Jr., saying, "While such a letter was written, Hoover almost certainly delegated it to others within the Bureau."

References[edit]

  1. ^ "J. Edgar (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 2011-11-16. Retrieved 2011-12-10. 
  2. ^ a b Kaufman, Amy (November 10, 2011). "Movie Projector: 'Immortals' poised to conquer box office". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Company. Retrieved November 10, 2011. 
  3. ^ "J. Edgar (2011)". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved 2012-03-09. 
  4. ^ Ford, Alan (2010-03-15). "Clint Eastwood to Direct J. Edgar Hoover Biopic". FilmoFilia.com. Retrieved 2010-12-26. 
  5. ^ Rosenberg, Adam (2010-06-18). "Leonardo DiCaprio To Star In J. Edgar Hoover Biopic". MTV.com. Retrieved 2010-12-26.
  6. ^ Stiernberg, Bonnie (2010-12-13). "Armie Hammer Joins Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar Hoover Movie". PasteMagazine.com. Retrieved 2010-12-26.
  7. ^ Fleming, Mike (2011-01-25). "Naomi Watts Joins 'J. Edgar' Cast". Deadline.com. Retrieved 2011-01-25.
  8. ^ (2011-01-18). "Josh Lucas Lands Lindbergh in 'J. Edgar'". Deadline.com. Retrieved 2015-11-21.
  9. ^ (2011-01-07). "Armie Hammer Offers Details on Clint Eastwood’s J. EDGAR". Collider.com. Retrieved 2011-01-09.
  10. ^ Rich, Katey (2010-12-23). "Damon Herriman Playing Lindbergh Baby Kidnapper In J. Edgar". Cinema Blend. Retrieved 2010-12-26.
  11. ^ Fleming, Mike (2011-03-08). "Jeffrey Donovan Playing RFK in 'J. Edgar'". Deadline.com. Retrieved 2011-03-08.
  12. ^ a b Schwartz, Terri (2011-01-11). "Ed Westwick In, Charlize Theron Out Of Clint Eastwood's 'J. Edgar'". MTV.com. Retrieved 2011-01-12.
  13. ^ Kit, Borys (2011-01-24). "Actors union boss cast in Eastwood's FBI movie". Reuters. Retrieved 2011-03-12. 
  14. ^ Rich, Katey (2011-02-24). "Stephen Root Will Play A Wood Expert in Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar". Cinema Blend. Retrieved 2011-03-12. 
  15. ^ "An Interview With Gunner Wright". The Gaming Liberty. 2011-04-23. Retrieved 2011-07-19. 
  16. ^ "J. Edgar (2011)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved November 10, 2011. 
  17. ^ "J. Edgar Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved November 10, 2011. 
  18. ^ Ebert, Roger (2011-11-08). "J. Edgar". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-11-09. 
  19. ^ McCarthy, Todd (2011-11-03). "J. Edgar: Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2011-11-07. 
  20. ^ Denby, David (2011-11-14). "The Man in Charge". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  21. ^ Hoberman, J. (2011-11-09). "Great Man Theories: Clint Eastwood on J. Edgar". Village Voice. Retrieved 2011-11-09. 
  22. ^ Debruge, Peter (2011-11-04). "J. Edgar - Film Review". Variety. Retrieved 2011-11-07. 
  23. ^ Edelstein, David (2011-11-06). "First Word Problems". New York Magazine. Retrieved 2011-11-08. 
  24. ^ "Daily Box Office Results for November 9, 2011". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
  25. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for November 11–13, 2011". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved 2011-11-17. 
  26. ^ "AACTA - Winners and Nominees - 2011". Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA). Retrieved April 1, 2012. 
  27. ^ "'Bridesmaids,' 'Tree of Life,' 'Hugo' in AFI's top 10 films of 2011". LATimes.com. December 11, 2011. Retrieved December 11, 2011. 
  28. ^ (2011-12-13). "2012 Critics’ Choice Movie Awards Noms: Hugo And The Artist Dominate The Field". TheFabLife.com. Retrieved 2011-12-13.
  29. ^ "69th Annual Golden Globe Awards — Full List Of Nominees". HollywoodLife.com. Retrieved 2011-12-15.
  30. ^ "National Board of Review Announces 2011 Awards; HUGO Takes Top Prize". WeAreMovieGeeks.com. Retrieved 2011-12-06.
  31. ^ "From WAR HORSE to THE MYSTERIES OF LISBON: Satellite Award Nominations 2011". Alt Film Guide. Retrieved 2011-12-06.
  32. ^ O'Connell, Sean (2011-12-14). "Screen Actors Guild nominations revealed". HollywoodNews.com. Retrieved 2011-12-14.
  33. ^ "Fact-Checking Clint Eastwood's 'J. Edgar' Biopic". All Things Considered. 2011-12-08. Retrieved 2012-03-25. 
  34. ^ Stockham, Aaron J. (2011-12-12). ""J. Edgar" Fails to Deliver the Historical Goods". History News Network. Retrieved March 25, 2012. 

External links[edit]