Clint Eastwood's biopic of the legendary FBI chief is well-acted but unfocused
Clint Eastwood’s biopic on former FBI head J Edgar Hoover offers an askew perspective on American history that eventually buckles under the weight of its own misguided ambition.
Written by Dustin Lance Black (who won an Oscar for his screenplay for Milk), the film recalls some of the defining moments in Hoover’s career as seen through the often-blinkered eyes of the man himself. As such, the film is upbeat and sentimental for most of its length. While some of Hoover’s greatest exploits (the creation of a finger printing database, hunting down John Dillinger) are touched upon, some of his more questionable methods and policies are forgotten. Yet the feature ends with a final sucker punch that undermines its own historical viewpoint.
Black and Eastwood do explore Hoover’s sexuality, and develop a mostly unspoken ‘romance’ between Hoover and his second-in-command, Clyde Tolson, while also referencing his cross-dressing tendencies and the domineering mother who may have shaped his outlook.
This subject matter is handled sensitively, and the film is well acted (especially by Leonardo DiCaprio) but overall feels unfocused and lacking the type of authority that made Hoover himself such a formidable figure in American history.