By Chris Lloyd
For a biopic about one of the most polarizing political figures of the 20th century, “J. Edgar” is a curiously-flat affair. It has got great production values, a standout performance by Leonardo DiCaprio and generally feels like a great big chunk of Hollywood ham.
The central thesis of screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and director Clint Eastwood is that J. Edgar Hoover, who wielded enormous power for five decades as head of the FBI, was secretly a closeted gay man who carried on a lifelong chaste love affair with Clyde Tolson, his best friend and right-hand man.
But the great truth the filmmakers miss is even if Hoover was attracted to men, this would be the least interesting thing about him as a person.
The story slips forward and backward in time, portraying how Hoover’s passion for collecting secrets, and leveraging them to gain political power, was his way of misdirecting others from exposing his own (as he saw them) weaknesses.
“J. Edgar” is a fine-looking movie and generally well-acted. But ultimately, the film employs the underhanded tactics of its subject: using shadowy whisperings about Hoover’s personal life to paint a skewed portrait of his public one.