J. Edgar – Review by Susan Granger

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Masterfully embodied by Leonardo DiCaprio, J. Edgar Hoover was the most powerful man in America as iconic, if paranoiac head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for nearly 50 years. Serving eight Presidents through three wars, he used evidence gained from surveillance to try to blackmail Roosevelt, Nixon, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, while shrewdly manipulating the media to support his ruthless pursuit of Communists and gangsters.

“No one freely shares power in Washington, D.C.,” he maintained. “Information is power.”

Dominated by his possessive mother, Annie (Judi Dench), intoning, “You’re destined for greatness,” ambitious Hoover methodically organized the Library of Congress cataloguing before he moved into law enforcement, where he founded the FBI, fighting fiercely to introduce fingerprinting and other scientific methodology, establishing his own set of professional policies and procedures. Crime-fighting was his passion; secrets were his weapons.

The most pivotal case in Hoover’s career was the abduction of celebrated aviator Charles Lindbergh’s baby, which led to Congress making kidnapping a federal offense, as Hoover established a framework for collecting and testing forensic evidence from a crime scene and popularized the “G-Men” image.

A dapper, self-aggrandizing, megalomaniacal, right-wing ideologue, Hoover was also an isolated, emotionally repressed, sublimated homosexual whose small circle of trust included his devoted secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), and dutiful, observant companion, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).

It’s uncanny how Leonardo DiCaprio breathes life into unblinking, eccentric conviction, delivering an enigmatic, powerhouse performance while receiving terrific support from Judi Dench, Naomi Watts and especially Armie Hammer (“The Social Network”), great-grandson of industrialist/art collector/philanthropist Armand Hammer.

Dustin Lance Black (“Milk”) has written a sensitive, nuanced screenplay, filled with flashbacks, which Clint Eastwood meticulously transforms into a riveting, eye-opening character study, covering Hoover’s career from the ‘Bolshevik’ invasions in 1919 through his death in 1972 at age 77 – speculating about the Machiavellian essence of his relationships. Yet Eastwood, like J. Edgar, never forges an emotional connection.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “J. Edgar” is an inscrutable, ambivalent 8 – with Leonardo DiCaprio emerging as a definite Oscar-contender.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.