J. Edgar (2011)

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IMDb Rating
6.6 out of 10 (view IMDb page)

As the face of law enforcement in America for almost 50 years, J. Edgar Hoover was feared and admired, reviled and revered. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life.

  • 4/5 Star Rating.
(Based on 8 Ratings)
MPAA Rating:
Biography, Drama
Clint Eastwood
Dustin Lance Black

Weekly Volcano's Review

Rev. Adam McKinney on November 9th, 2011

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There are moments in J. Edgar that approach parody of Oscar-baiting biopics. Let's take, for instance, the moment when J. Edgar Hoover has to think up a new signature when signing up for a line of credit at a clothing store. "But I've always signed my name John Edgar Hoover," he protests. Cue a curiously long and unintentionally hilarious zoom in on his new signature: "J. Edgar Hoover." This is a moment that rivals John C. Reilly's prolonged and emphatic (and intentionally funny) lead up to his utterance of the words "walk hard" in the film of the same name.

I reveled in these awkwardly funny moments in the sea of steadfast mediocrity that is Clint Eastwood's latest effort. It seems like only a year ago (and, in fact, it practically was) that I was forced to sit through Hereafter-Eastwood's simultaneously childish and dull exploration of death. And now here I am, again presented with another out-of-touch Eastwood product. Once more, I am bombarded with Eastwood's signature icy blue and grey color palette, which has never been as intrusive and ugly as it is in J. Edgar.

To be sure, J. Edgar Hoover is a fascinating, tragic and completely worthy figure for exploration and investigation. This is a man who had a very unhealthy relationship with his mother and an acute paranoia regarding communists - to say nothing of his lifelong closeted homosexuality, which did its job, as it does to so many poor closeted souls, of infecting every little interaction in his life with an edge and an ever-present lie. Hoover could never be at ease, and this tension pushed him not only to the legitimately great and groundbreaking achievements of his life, but also to an ultimate sadness and eventual failing as a person - not as a public figure, but as a man.

J. Edgar follows Hoover's life in flashback as he dictates it to a constantly changing series of biographers (one gets the sense that, much like mass murderer H.H. Holmes, Hoover prefers that no one lackey be privy to the full scope of any project he undertakes). Most of the action of the plot is focused on Hoover's reminiscence of the Charles Lindbergh case, which proved to be a monumental one in the growth of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover used the high-profile nature of the case to further the pervasiveness and power of the FBI. This becomes Hoover's biggest achievement, as well as his worst deed to the United States. Privacy - for better or worse - becomes a thing of the past.

Going to see a biopic about J. Edgar Hoover, I imagine many people are mostly wondering about one thing: the cross-dressing. In the interest of disclosure, we see him wear a dress one time. We see him kiss a man one time. This is all. One of the most interesting and tragic things about the man that was J. Edgar Hoover has been noticeably and awkwardly white-washed, and what we are left with is policy and furtive glances.

Hoover knew more than most about keeping secrets, but this would have been the ideal time to let those secrets out. - One and a half out of four stars

User Reviews of J. Edgar (8)

Weekly Volcano is not responsible for the content of these reviews. Weekly Volcano reserves the right to remove reviews at their discretion.

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Jeff P said on Nov. 17, 2011 at 12:13am

I can't wait for this movie! =)

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chris said on Nov. 23, 2011 at 10:09pm

I saw the movie poster for J. Edgar weeks ago, got excited, then looked down at the bottom and read in tiny letters, "directed by Clint Eastwood," and my excitement went away. Invictus and Gran Torino were just okay films, but Hereafter was an odd misstep for this celebrated director. And now J. Edgar has gotten mostly bad reviews. Too bad someone like Scorsese didn't direct this. Guess I gotta go suck it up and see Hugo.

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Rev. Adam McKinney said on Nov. 24, 2011 at 7:55pm


It really is a shame. Now we have to wait however many years for someone else to tackle the J. Edgar Hoover story and make something great out of it.


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  • 4/5 Star Rating.

Kolby said on Dec. 03, 2011 at 9:56pm

Rev. McKinney,
I wonder if you could clarify something for me. In your review of J. Edgar, in your second to last paragraph, you say that one of the most interesting and tragic things about Hoover has been oddly whitewashed. Are you referring to his cross-dressing or his sexuality? If you are referring to the latter, I have to wonder what exactly you were looking for. Eastwood and Black spell it out, clear as day. There’s even a coming out scene. Sure, Hoover never says the words “I am gay,” but “Mother, I don’t like dancing, especially not with women,” isn’t subtle, and it certainly isn’t subtext. You criticize the furtive glances, but what more would there have been between these two in public? Would something as blatant as a sex scene between Hammer and Dicaprio have added anything to this film? I don’t think so. I would argue that the love (secret though it may have been) between Hoover and Tolson is given more screen time than any other single element of J. Edgar. The final two images of Hoover that Eastwood gives us are of him confessing his love for Tolson, kissing his forehead (to be fair, there were two male-male kisses, not one), and of Tolson cradling his dead lover’s body. What about this is white-washed? If anything, it was the movie’s saving grace.

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Rev. Adam McKinney said on Dec. 04, 2011 at 4:51pm


First, I'm glad to see that you liked the film. I really wanted to. Perhaps if I had been enjoying the movie, I wouldn't have been so fixated on the movie's interpretation of their relationship. I find it simply unthinkable that they would have lived their entire lives in this sexless, platonic marriage, of sorts. Perhaps that's naivete on my part.

J. Edgar presents this relationship and Hoover's sexuality (save, really, for the two moments that you mention) as almost a quirky character trait of Hoover's, and not nearly close to what was likely quite a soul-crushing reality for him. If what the film says about his personal life is true, if he indeed lived in this miserable closet with Tolson, I think it's unavoidable that it would have had a huge impact on him eventually devolving into the fear-mongering, paranoid man he became.

Anyway, I can only judge the film I saw, so I don't know if it would have been improved by approaching this aspect differently. What would have probably improved it most would be removing Eastwood from the picture.


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Kolby said on Dec. 05, 2011 at 9:30pm

Rev. McKinney,

Thank you for your reply.

It wasn't my enjoyment of the movie that led me to a different view on the Hoover/Tolson relationship, simply my own observations. Where we disagree is that while I would also say this relationship was sexless, it was not at all platonic in my opinion. I am by no means a Hoover expert, so I can't comment on what physical intimacies actually took place, but the desire was there, at least in this film. I wouldn't call your opinion naive, I just feel that a lack of physical sex does not necessarily make for a platonic relationship. As a viewer, I thought the desire for a romantic and sexual relationship was there. And as someone who spent a few years in that soul-crushing closet, as someone who has felt that pain firsthand, I think the impact on Hoover was visible. In this movie, Hoover was a man who believed his own lies, one of which happened to be that awful lie that a lot of LGBTQ persons tell themselves before coming out: That it's a phase, or just this particular person, or any other justification that isn't the simple truth.

I also had the experience of viewing this movie a few weeks after its release, after reading a few reviews criticizing the relationship in question. I was expecting nothing, and got a lot more. For me, it was enough.

As for Eastwood, his work (at least what I've seen of it) isn't particularly concerned with sexuality, queer, straight, or otherwise. Again, I got more than I was expecting.

Anyway, that's where I'm coming from. I hate it when movies try and call gay anything but. In "J. Edgar," I saw a man without neither the vocabulary nor the courage to confront who he truly was and come to terms with that. If this wasn't there for other viewers, that's understandable. I simply felt the general consensus on this one was a bit harsh.



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Rev. Adam McKinney said on Dec. 06, 2011 at 1:27am


I truly appreciate the manner in which you approached this discussion. Thank you. I see your points, and I believe them to be valid. Perhaps, upon viewing the film a second time, I'll look at that aspect of "J. Edgar" in a different way.


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Joseph said on Jan. 30, 2012 at 7:31am

The scene that "J. Edgar" depicts in Garfinckel's Department store is historically accurate. Hoover had applied for store credit as 'John Hoover' but a man with that same name had run up bad credit all all over Washington. Garfinckel's credit director urged Hoover to re-apply, and for the very first time Hoover signed his name as 'J. Edgar'.

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