After the bombing of Attorney General Mitchell Palmer’s (Geoff Pierson) house, synchronized with several other bombings by Communist radicals, John Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) comes to the house and begins collecting evidence before it becomes contaminated.
Up to this point, Hoover was simply an employee of Palmer’s. He quickly makes his way up the ranks to director of the Bureau of Investigations. Unfortunately, the Bureau has no real authority or power. They’re not even allowed to be armed.
Hoover has an obsession with order. He organized a card catalog for the Library of Congress to allow users to find books in a matter of minutes instead of days. He uses this to try to impress secretary Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts) on a date. When that doesn’t work, he hires Ms. Gandy as his personal secretary.
Still obsessed with cataloging everything, Hoover has an idea to create a central repository of fingerprints for everyone in the country, thus making it easier to find criminals when a crime has been committed. He and Ms. Gandy also start collecting secret files on high-powered persons, just to keep on hand.
Armed with these secret files, Hoover uses intimidation, fear, and blackmail to attain greater power for the Bureau (eventually to become the Federal Bureau of Investigations). Each time the administration in office changes, he uses his scare tactics to legitimize the Bureau’s existence and increase its power.
During his tenure, Hoover hires Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Clyde is an unqualified, noncommittal applicant, not really suited for the role. He quickly becomes Hoover’s right hand man. And eventual lover.
Clint Eastwood does an excellent job directing this film. Based on the rise to power of the narcissistic, power-hungry Hoover. And the role is expertly portrayed by Leo.
I had no idea just how corrupt the FBI really was as it was formed, if we assume minimal artistic license was granted to the film. Hoover used fear of Communists and activists to increase his reach. Sounds a lot like recent history. It’s a little frightening. On the flip side, it shows Hoover, and the FBI’s, part in improving the field of forensics.
Watching the developing relationship of Hoover and Clyde is intriguing. It has just gained moderate acceptance recently. In the middle of the 1900s, it was about as taboo as one could get. Hoover’s mother (Judi Dench) even declared, “I would rather have a dead son than a daffodil son.” I cannot imagine living under this kind of oppression. Especially from the one who is supposed to accept you unconditionally.
I won’t lie. It’s a long movie. Over two hours. And it feels every minute of it. But the intertwining of timelines keeps your interest. To that same note, I will have to recommend seeing it in a theater. The story jumps all over the place. In a good way. Watching the film in the theater grants you the privilege of watching it with minimal distractions. An absolute necessity. Otherwise, you could get lost in the shuffle.
It is a very interesting story. And, as stated above, the acting is excellent. As much as I hate to admit it, Leo is very talented. Leo’s makeup, which obviously took a great deal of time, is well done. The others, especially Clyde’s, not as much.
I would definitely recommend this film. (If for no other reason than to cross off one of the nominees for next year’s Oscars.) It’s got a different kind of action. And it’s an original script, unlike most of what is being churned out these days. If you can tune out the distractions, you could wait until it is available to rent. You won’t miss much. And the 3D was completely unnecessary.*
*It wasn’t in 3D.