Every once in awhile you see a movie that truly hits on all cylinders. The combination of script, direction, acting, and score reminding you why you decided to give up a few hours and $13 hard earned dollars. J. Edgar, sadly, is not one of those movies. But it could have been. And that's what makes is so very sad indeed.
Its a noble feat to try and nail down such a larger than life figure as J. Edgar Hoover, while also in some significant way telling the story of the closest thing he had to a child- The Federal Bureau of Investigation. Its also no small feat to try and tell a love story. Particular a somewhat imagined love story between two men of questionable intimacy and connection who may or may not have been lovers while leading the aforementioned FBI.
The same affliction affects both parts of the story arch. First, any love story should contain at least some minor explanation of where the love comes from. Perhaps it is a conversation, perhaps a chance meeting but there has to be some connection that weaves two souls together if the story of their multi-decade affair is to be believed. This movie offers no explanation for the connection-- only that there was one. It almost suggests they were together simply out of opportunity. That would explain a hook-up, but not fifty years. As a reult there is a failure to answer an obvious and fascinating question. If they were lovers, then what about this one man, in the face of a time, a mother, and a self that was not accepting of anything close to gay-- what about this one man was enough to bring this desire to the surface. Where was the spark that lit this smoldering flame in a way that defied even Edgar's own mother's stated interested that she would prefer a dead son than a "Daffodil".
The other arch is equally left to whiter, half completed on its vine. Did the FBI offer J. Edgar something to build his own imagine in to prove his independence from his mothers long and demanding shadow, or was it a tribute to her faith in him. Was at his core, J. Edgar the exact opposite of all he seemed to be--and was expected to be, or was his life a testament to it. We are offered no glimpse of honor in his soul, only a wimpish naivete that is reflected in childish behavior at every turn-- and every age. This is simply unrealistic for a man such as Hoover.
There had to be at least some ingratiating moment-- quality or action. The loyalty is there--in his proposed lover, in his life long secretary-- from where does this come. No matter what his faults, no man remains at the helm of any entity (federal or private) for so long without doing some good. In this way Hoover is like his contemporay-- Robert Moses, and this film could have used much of the total prosepctive found in Caro's Power Broker. In the words of the theme to the Facts of Life-- "You take the good, you take the bad".. and you end up with any figure who is front and center in public life for an uncommonly long time. Again, we are left without clues as to the spark except in a negative blackmailing way--as though the only source of his power and longevity were the infmaous files in a way more reminenscent of the Lord of the Ring than a public servent passionate about the service of his agency. Instead, we are encouraged only to stare and gawk at an angry little man and wonder how in god's name he obtained any love or any power at all, much less held onto it.
Certainly he was a contrast-- whether between the public and the private of himself, or of his agency, or both, but this contrast is best examined when we are given both sides. Not just one and left to assume or guess or just take at face value the other.
Given the level of creative licence taken with the historical record in this film, it would certainly not be a stretch to ask the director and writer to fill in the greys with just a bit more color from both sides of the prospective. Doing so would have made much stronger case--and left us with a more convincing portrait of a man who I understand even less today than I did before I saw the film-- and that is even sadder still.
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