Monday, April 16, 2012

J. Edgar

Written by Joe the Revelator

During a mother-son bonding moment, the ruling matriarch of J. Edgar's life tells him a quaint story about a boy everyone called Daffy (short for Daffodil) at the end of which Daffy takes his own life because he can't stand the pain and ridicule caused by his sexual inclinations. She makes it very clear she would rather her own son be dead than "Daffy". Immediately following the old bat's death, he wears her dress and jewelery.

It's easy in retrospect to excuse a man's actions by saying he was confused by his sexuality. Especially if we look back a few generations when alternative lifestyles were shunned, ostracized, and generally frowned upon. The term "Confirmed Bachelor" comes to mind, which was a phrase coined during the Victorian era when one couldn't openly accuse notable men of being gay. In J. Edgar, being a confirmed bachelor seems to be his only redeeming quality.

Confirmed Nutcase

J. Edgar, as he is portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio, is vain, self-centered, twitchy, fussy, anal, and magnificently paranoid, which make him the perfect candidate as the first chief director of the FBI. His nickname was speedy, for his rapid, terse way of speaking. And to his own reluctant admission, he had no personal friends or acquaintances when he first received his position.

The first half of the movie is told through J. Edgar's perspective as he dictates his memoirs to a string of FBI typists. He lies his way through historical FBI and most wanted cases like the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the shooting of John Dillinger, and JFK's assassination. Now and again his self-congratulatory tirades are interrupted by the typists who are faced with the task of spinning his claims into truths.

And there are brief glimpses into the real J. Edgar when his actions are brought into question by lifelong colleagues. His dutiful secretary takes dictation as he rails against MLK in a fraudulent letter designed to undo King's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize. And his partner, aged and palsied, calls into question the very memoirs that comprise the earlier scenes of the movie. If it's possible to write a twist into a plot based on real events, this is a clever way to do it.

Snappy Suit

My only real complaint about J. Edgar is the relevance of this movie for today's audiences. J. Edgar Hoover died during the Nixon administration, and while I enjoy a good historical drama, I fail to see the connection to today's issues. Aside from unlawful wire tapping and ongoing pressures for the gay community.

But this is a petty complaint at best. I found J. Edgar to be a riveting character study of a young man who built an amazing wealth of power from a very modest allotment of government resources. If the story of his professional career is overshadowed a bit by his personal struggle, it is to the benefit of the viewer.

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