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J. Edgar (Blu-ray Review)

8 Mar, 2012 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Box Office $37.31 million
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray combo pack
Rated ‘R’ for brief strong language.
Stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Armie Hammer, Josh Lucas, Judi Dench.

It’s unfortunate that director Clint Eastwood’s excellent biopic J. Edgar was sidetracked to some degree in the media by the title character’s veiled homosexuality.

Leonardo DiCaprio gives a tour de force performance as J. Edgar Hoover, the overbearing little big man who single-handedly created the Federal Bureau of Investigations — the nation’s lone law enforcement agency he overtly ruled with an iron will until his death in 1972.

DiCaprio nails Hoover’s intense drive to root out the evils of communism that he so firmly believed undermined the country’s societal fabric in the early 20th century.

This intensity would also manifest in a form of professional paranoia that had Hoover opening investigation files on anyone (celebrities and presidents included) whom he felt could undermine his authority.

Hoover wasn’t just a gratuitous self-promoter of the FBI — even cooperating with FBI-inspired comic books and Hollywood movies (starring James Cagney) — he felt that for law enforcement to gain the upper hand, it needed to treat crime like a science project.

He helped elevate fingerprinting from quack science to a routine investigative procedure, including establishing a national database whereby local and national law enforcement could track and prosecute the country’s growing scourge: mobsters and bank robbers (ironically also portrayed in the movies by Cagney).

The film’s concurrent storyline involves the kidnapping and death of Charles Lindbergh’s baby son — a national case that brought about making kidnapping a federal crime (because perpetrators and victims often cross state lines). Hoover’s insistence in creating a Lindbergh task force of scientists and field experts (the first-ever CSI unit) helped capture and convict defendant Bruno Hauptmann (Damon Herriman from FX’s “Justified”).

J. Edgar does not shy away from Hoover’s obvious physical and emotional affection for assistant and cultured confidant Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Hoover, who lived with his overbearing mother (Judi Dench) until her death, never missed a meal with the fawning Tolson. The two men were literally inseparable, it seemed.

Lost in the relationship was the lifelong unrequited love Hoover’s secretary, Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), had for the director. Her loyalty to Hoover, in the end, helped conceal a personal lifestyle that could have undermined everything.

The Blu-ray release includes a special feature in which the cast outlines Hoover’s historical impact.

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