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Film / J. Edgar

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"Sometimes you need to bend the rules a little to keep our country safe."
John Edgar Hoover

A 2011 Biopic of the first and most infamous director of the FBI, John Edgar Hoover, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Told in a memoir-style narration, the narrative hops backwards and forwards in time from Hoover's time as a minor lawyer in the Department of Justice to the end of his life. It addresses such topics as the growth of power and influence of the FBI, the use and abuse of power, and the assorted scandals and rumors surrounding Hoover's life. The film initially received lukewarm critical reviews.

Stars Leonardo diCaprio in the title role; Armie Hammer as the assistant director and lifelong companion of Hoover, Clyde Tolson; Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy, Hoover's Secretary, and Judi Dench as Anna Marie Hoover, J.Edgar's mother.

Provides Examples Of:

  • Ambiguously Gay: The film paints Hoover in this light, showing him having trouble and uncomfortableness attempting to have relationships with women (which leads to the below incidents listed under Gayngst and Bury Your Gays), having some slight subconscious feminine tendencies, and, perhaps most obviously, him and Tolson having some clear sexual tension between the two of them; one late scene starts with the two of them fighting and ends with them making out.
  • Arch-Enemy: The personal hatred J Edgar has for Robert Kennedy is so intense that Kennedy pretty much fills this role.
  • Better as Friends: Hoover and Gandy.
    • Roger Ebert suspects this is how Hoover and Tolson decided their relationship should be, because "not being gay" offered greater rewards.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Hoover often states one must bend the rules to save a country.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: The 1919 bombers were this, although Hoover inaccurately refers to them as "Bolshevik communists."
  • Bury Your Gays: An in-universe example: Hoover's mother tells her son about a boy who lived in their neighborhood who shot himself a few weeks after being publicly humiliated at school for wearing a skirt. Everyone else had nicknamed him "Daffy," as in "daffodil." She goes on to say that she would rather have a dead son than a daffodil for a son.
  • The Cameo: Lea Thompson as Ginger Roger's mother, Jeffrey Donovan as Bobbie Kennedy and Josh Lucas as Charles Lindbergh.
  • Chiaroscuro: Eastwood uses this style to visualize the shadowy world of secrets and lies that Hoover inhabits. Unusually, critics (at least according to the Rotten Tomatoes consensus) dismissed this as simply "bad lighting," despite the fact that Eastwood has been known to use this style for many of his films, notably Million Dollar Baby.
  • Crossdresser: Unexpectedly and sympathetically portrayed when, grief-stricken by his mother’s recent death, Edgar puts on her gown and necklace in front of her mirror before breaking down in tears.
  • The Determinator: J Edgar and Tolson.
  • Dirty Communists: J Edgar's preferred targets, going so far as to go after them instead of the mob as discussed with Robert Kennedy.
  • Drinking the Kool-Aid: When the FBI starts to become movie heroes in the popular culture, Hoover begins to believe the hype that he is the super-cop crusader and commander depicted in the movies, comic books and radio shows.
    • When he is forced to admit (before Congress) that he has never directly participated in a gun battle (or even an arrest), he starts involving himself in several high profile arrests personally. It's strongly implied he is doing so for the sake of his image. The ending hints that many of these scenes where Edgar is shown arresting people may be a case of Unreliable Narrator, and that others did the arrests. In Real Life, Hoover only ever took part in the arrest of gangster Alvin Karpis, and even that event was heavily stage-managed so that Hoover wasn't in any real danger.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Hoover tries to pull rank on Police Chief Schwartzkopf at the Lindbergh Crime Scene, but the Chief isn't impressed, pointing out he has no rank to pull on local jurisdiction, and tells the Feds to buzz off. This humiliation makes Hoover livid and redoubles his personal quest to give The FBI sovereignty over other law enforcement bodies.
  • Enemies List: And how. It seems a good portion of the bureau's investigations coincide with J. Edgar's personal vendettas.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Most of the principal characters die or are elderly at the end. Also, the viewer is pretty sure none of the Presidents managed to actually shut down the Bureau.
  • Forensic Drama: Though not the focus of the film, screen time is spent on Hoover setting up what would become the world famous FBI Forensic Lab. The first version was a smoking lounge.
  • Framing Device: A majority of the background of Hoover and the FBI is presented as Hoover dictating his memoirs to various agents.
  • Gayngst: Hoover turning into a nervous wreck when he admits to his mother that he doesn't like dancing with women, which is what prompts Anna to deliver the aforementioned Bury Your Gays speech.
  • Grow Old with Me: Hoover and Tolson eventually live together well into their old age.
  • Hauled Before A Senate Subcommittee: Hoover's forced to justify the FBI's budget to Senator Kenneth McKellar's Appropriations Committee. McKellar humiliates Hoover by forcing him to admit that he's never personally arrested a criminal.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Hoover and Tolson, Truth in Television. The movie goes further.
  • Historical Beauty Update: The title character. Kind of inevitable when you're played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Clyde Tolson also wasn't anywhere near as tall or handsome as Armie Hammer.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Though only explicitly stated a few times, this is the entire undercurrent of the relationship between Hoover and Tolson.
  • Hypocrite: Hoover is shocked that Nixon wants to use the FBI to spy on political enemies. He's about the last person who should make that criticism.note 
  • Invasion of the Baby Snatchers: The Lindbergh kidnapper who abducts infants. Lindy desperately reaches out to anyone who may help — the local police, the FBI, and even (it is implied) to the Mafia. Alas, it does no good, as his son is dead and this trope is kicked up even more.
  • It's Personal: J Edgar held many grudges.
  • It Will Never Catch On: The fingerprinting database that Hoover talks about in the beginning of the movie.
  • Knight Templar: Hoover sees the world through the prism of his experiences hunting Communists and anarchists in the post-WWI Red Scare, a battle with extremists and subversives that requires firm, if morally questionable actions. Unfortunately, Hoover isn't able to distinguish real enemies and legitimate threats from people who simply hold unpopular views and lifestyles - or, worse, from those who simply get on his bad side.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: J Edgar and Tolson obsess about other agents' fashion choices and are generally conservatively, but very well dressed themselves.
  • Punch Punch Kiss: Far beyond slaps, two full on fist on face smacks before a lip on lip smack.
  • Un-person: Hoover grows to resent Melvin Purvis (who is never depicted on screen) for becoming famous after killing John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd, and insists on writing Purvis out of the Bureau's publicity materials.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Hoover. To call his narrative of his own actions in the field embellished would be an understatement. He is called out for it at the end of the movie.
  • Unseen Character: Curiously, the eight presidents that Hoover worked for are never shown interacting with him (only Nixon appears in a brief cameo), and only stock footage of the Presidents is used in the movie.
  • Washington, D.C.: Where 90% of the film takes place.