The Hoover biopic returns this Sunday on Arte.
Update of November 19, 2021: Released almost ten years ago in the cinema, J. Edgar will return this Sunday on Arte, as part of a special Leonardo DiCaprio evening (the channel will then schedule a documentary on the actor entitled Leonardo DiCaprio: Most Wanted, already visible on the site Arte.TV). At the time, First had been disappointed with Clint Eastwood’s film, despite one captivating subject: portraying J. Edgar Hoover, the former FBI chief, whose life was particularly controversial. Our review, and contextualization of the film’s release, can be (re) read below, on the occasion of this rerun, but also of the theatrical release of the director’s new drama film, Cry Macho.
Cry Macho: Clint Eastwood rehashes and muses [critique]
Article from January 25, 2012: After only ten days of operation, J. Edgar exceeded one million spectators, a very good score which confirms the crazy popularity of Clint eastwood. Since Million Dollar Baby (2004), the French public follows him faithfully and almost blindly, whatever the quality of his films. At the same time, it has become a tendency among opinion makers to disqualify Eastwood with the same unanimous frenzy as during his sudden canonization in the 1980s. It is true that his latest opus, J. Edgar, leaves a frankly disappointing impression (too long, confused, repetitive). However, he is tough and often comes back to memory, as if to recall that his subject matter is considerable. As a man of power, the inventor of the FBI was a special dangerous case in the American political system. Almost by accident, he created from scratch a formidable intelligence tool that gave him so much power that he clung to it for the rest of his life. As a man, he was an enigma to others as well as to himself. Eastwood addresses both aspects, showing that they are inseparable and interdependent.
Leonardo Leonardo DiCaprio was paid ten times less than usual for Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar
Obviously, Eastwood is excited about a theme that has been working on him for a long time, that of the relationship between myth and reality in American history, with all that lies, public or private, that implies. This Fordian heritage (“Print the caption…”), Eastwood always treated him with more blackness and pessimism than his older brother. The exchange recalled how the practice of state lies does not date from yesterday. Memories of our fathers traced the making of an icon of American heroism. And in Ruthless, which dismantles the myth of the killer of the west, we can see in the character of Richard harris a prefiguration of Hoover, with this biographer tasked with writing down the legend of a dubious character. There is the same mechanics at work in J. Edgar, which begins when old Hoover entrusts a journalist with the writing of his biography. A quantity of flashbacks refer to the main stages of his career, but it is only at the end that it becomes clear that everything he dictated, and everything that was taken for the re-creation of the facts, was only his point illusory sight, his life dreamed of by himself.
The oddly destitute (sounds like Chabrol) staging is meant to show the pettiness and weakness of Hoover’s fantasies, while setting us on the right track. By the end of his life, Hoover had come to confuse reality with legend, and his longtime collaborator ended up setting the record straight. Hoover has spent his life in denial, and the film also tells the story by evoking his homosexuality, never assumed for fear of his mother first, and the eyes of others then. He whose goodwill consisted in watching his neighbors to blackmail them, he knew too well that nothing should be shown that could be used against him. The substance is exciting, but the film is complicated and does not help the viewer. It is better to know the story of Hoover if not, the one that Eastwood and his screenwriter tells us. Dustin Lance Black (become an authority on homo historical subjects since Milk) is fragmentary and abstract. With its frequent back and forth in time, the structure is tiring and counterproductive. At the end of an hour, the momentum is reduced to nothing, and each scene gives the impression that the film will end there, so much does it not advance.
The big problem is that Eastwood does not seem to have sufficiently evaluated the investment necessary to carry out a project of this ambition. A question of staging, but above all of writing and preparation. We have the impression that the director does not have a general idea of what he wants to achieve. He continues to film as he always has, quickly but not always well. As a result, J. Edgar has neither the momentum of his lighter films, nor the gravity that he should have. Hoover outlived several presidents, thanks to the fear he inspired. Eastwood shows that when he died, his secrets were destroyed before Nixon’s minions got their hands on them (in order to destroy them, at least in part). It would have been much more disturbing to leave the doubt, to show empty drawers, suggesting that Hoover remained in power for half a century simply by stirring up myths.
J. Edgar, by Clint Eastwood: the movie that bothers the FBI