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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Clint Eastwood|
|Written by||Dustin Lance Black|
|Music by||Clint Eastwood|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$84.6 million|
J. Edgar is a 2011 American biographical drama film directed, co-produced, and scored by Clint Eastwood. 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.
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.
- Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover
- Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson
- Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy
- Josh Lucas as Charles Lindbergh
- Judi Dench as Anna Marie Hoover, Hoover's mother
- Dermot Mulroney as Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr.
- Damon Herriman as Bruno Richard Hauptmann
- Jeffrey Donovan as Robert F. Kennedy
- Ed Westwick as Agent Smith, Hoover's biographer
- Zach Grenier as John Condon
- Ken Howard as U.S. Attorney General Harlan F. Stone
- Stephen Root as Arthur Koehler
- Denis O'Hare as Albert S. Osborn
- Geoff Pierson as A. Mitchell Palmer
- Lea Thompson as Lela Rogers
- Gunner Wright as Dwight D. Eisenhower
- Christopher Shyer as Richard Nixon
- Miles Fisher as Agent Garrison
- Jessica Hecht as Emma Goldman
- Michael O'Neill as Kenneth McKellar, US Senator
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.
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." 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.
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". 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." 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."
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." 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."
The film opened limited in 7 theaters on November 9, grossing $52,645, and released wide on November 11, grossing $11,217,324 on its opening weekend, approximating the $12 million figure projected by the Los Angeles Times for the film's opening weekend in the United States and Canada. 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.
|Date of ceremony||Award||Category||Recipient(s)||Result|
|January 27, 2012||AACTA Awards||Best Actor – International||Leonardo DiCaprio||Nominated|
|December 11, 2011||American Film Institute||Top 10 Films||J. Edgar||Won|
|January 12, 2012||Broadcast Film Critics Association||Best Actor||Leonardo DiCaprio||Nominated|
|January 15, 2012||Golden Globe Awards||Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama||Nominated|
|December 1, 2011||National Board of Review||Top Ten Films||J. Edgar||Won|
|December 18, 2011||Satellite Awards||Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama||Leonardo DiCaprio||Nominated|
|January 29, 2012||Screen Actors Guild Awards||Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role||Nominated|
|Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role||Armie Hammer||Nominated|
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." 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." Stockham notes that Hoover probably did not write the FBI's notorious letter to Martin Luther King, Jr., as the film portrays, saying, "While such a letter was written, Hoover almost certainly delegated it to others within the Bureau."
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