Most recent talks Film talks A-Z Before viewing talks Deep talks Sign up: email updates About the film talks Stay up on new talks Join the community
What's this site about? Inside out: Heart Inside out: Beauty Inside out: Love Thoughtful: a film's heart Thoughtful: film content Thoughtful: films to watch Who's behind this?
Register and login General PttH updates Film review sites Film site quick views Quotes The PttH seminar

J. Edgar (2011)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

The single most notable characteristic of J. Edgar is its even-handedness. It could have gone liberal, centering on abuse of power and civil rights violations, or conservative, centering on our dangerous world and the need for certain protections. Instead, it wraps stories and vignettes around these themes, with J. Edgar Hoover’s life, accomplishments, and frailties as the foreground that embodies the tension between them.

In the early 1900s, coincident with the rise of Communism and the Soviet Union, the United States was beset with terrorist bombings from people who desired to dismantle capitalism and establish the US as a Communist state. Police used haphazard methods for gathering, preserving, and analyzing evidence, hampering prosecution of major crimes. The BOI (Bureau of Investigation) had very little authority for investigation and law enforcement. Young J. Edgar Hoover, influenced by the visionary leadership of Mitchell Palmer, saw the situation as a compelling danger to US citizens and to the USA itself. Upon achieving the establishment of a new Federal Bureau of Investigation, he congeals his powerful vision into action, making great strides in the effectiveness of American law enforcement while raising questions on the limits and propriety of law enforcement power. Running time: 137 min.

Operating at the levels of both one man’s life and the life of a nation, J. Edgar explores related and different questions between the two. If our nation faces an insidious threat, will we see it? If we see it, will we actually understand it? How will we decide the balance between citizen privacy and national protection? Whether national or personal, are attempts at control merely overreactions to insecurity? What power should be entrusted to individuals and how should that power be checked? Who can we trust? Anyone can be corrupted, so how can we decide to trust? What do we do with our insecurities? Threats, risk, power, frailty, and how we deal with these — such are the themes explored in the film.

The filmcraft is good, though the music may be limited. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hoover quite strongly at a wide variety of ages and stages. The make-up is very good — I’m still not sure that it was really Naomi Watts as Hoover’s secretary. The story’s intertwining of time periods works well. The pacing is even, without large rises and falls, perhaps evened out by the expansive scope of Hoover’s life that it contemplates. This can make it seem less dramatic — and will make some complain that it was not entertaining enough — but I find that it fits the film’s epic arc and even-handedness. A life is made of many, many individual events, and aiming to compress events for the sake of drama could give short shrift to human complexity that emerges across many events.

J. Edgar is worth the time — especially if you have some interest in the topic. That said, I would not place it among the most impactful films I’ve seen.

There is a small bit of sexual activity, but none onscreen other than a male-male kiss. Violence includes explosions, police raids, and beatings, but it is not pervasive or highly graphic, though one brief image may be disturbing. Very little strong language (almost none).

  • Director: Clint Eastwood
  • Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black
  • Leads: Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts
  • Cinematography: Tom Stern
  • Music: Clint Eastwood


NOTE: Although Before viewing talks don't have spoilers, comments below MAY have spoilers
(spoilers are allowed in comments when a Before viewing talk does not have a corresponding After viewing talk for discussing the film)

Post a Comment

NOTE: It is okay to have spoilers in comments on Quick talks, but please do warn folks with "** SPOILERS **" or some such.

You must be registered (it's easy) and logged in to post a comment. Why?