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The Times-Delphic

The Student News Site of Drake University

The Times-Delphic

Review: Film depicts secret life of J. Edgar

Copley is a sophomore LPS and political science double major and can be contacted at

Walk into the FBI and Robert Mueller is undoubtedly its director. Yet it’s impossible to ignore, even today, the effect J. Edgar Hoover had and continues to have on the institution.

From the time he became director in 1924 until the moment he died in 1972, Hoover ran the FBI with an iron fist. His reign spanned the terms of eight presidents where the country witnessed an unprecedented rise in power of the FBI. Despite the treasure trove of secrets he possessed, the facts of Hoover’s personal life largely remain speculation.

What we are given is that he liked to dress up as a woman, lived with his mother until she died, never married, and had a very close relationship with long time partner Clyde Tolson.

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These facts are never verified but it is assumed that Hoover was a homosexual, an interesting detail considering he had dirt on the sex lives of every prominent person in public life, dirt that gave him the ability to dramatically increase the power of the FBI and change its place in politics forever. There is never a doubt at any point in the movie who the president fears most and it’s Hoover.

Clint Eastwood could have made this movie focused on J. Edgar Hoover, the homosexual. Instead he focused on the public image Hoover maintained throughout his life, even in private. He was a straightforward moralist, a man who surrounded himself with people he could trust and who followed his every order.

Agents were clean cut, wore suits and ties at all times and were always under the watch of Hoover. The film takes us back to famous cases such as the capture of John Dillinger and the manhunt for the kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby. Hoover’s publicity machine depicted him as acting virtually alone in solving the thousands of cases he investigated. However, he was not present when Dillinger was shot down outside the Biograph Theater, although America got the impression that he was. He also never forgave the star agent, Melvin Purvis, for actually cornering America’s Most Wanted. There was doubt from within that Bruno Hauptmann was guilty in the Lindbergh case, but Hoover firmly believed he was guilty and that was all that mattered. It was only appropriate that Hoover took such a prevalent stance against communism after the Bolshevik Revolution. The rise in communist threats after World War II gave Hoover the perfect channel to further increase power through the spread of the Red Scare.

Lost in the constant wonder of J. Edgar Hoover the person, is the brilliant acting done by Leonardo DiCaprio in this film. It often goes unnoticed throughout the film how well DiCaprio embraces the role of Hoover while putting forth an awe inspiring performance, especially in his relationship with Tolson and his mother throughout the movie.

I firmly believe that both Hoover and Tolson were repressed homosexuals after watching this film. While I believe they engaged in some sort of a sexual relationship after a love-at-first-sight type experience, the pressure from Hoover’s mother and the reality that the tangible costs of being an open homosexual couple far outweighed any of its benefits, pursued the two men to forge a lifelong friendship as companions.

As hinted at previously, the two main women in this film provide the mask that hides Hoover’s true character. The first being his heavily influential mother Annie Hoover (Judi Dench), who unequivocally provides the “invisible hand” that silences Hoover’s inner feelings with her scorn for “daffodils.” The other is the all-important Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts), the woman with whom Hoover attempts to preserve his self-image with a failed marriage proposal on a “romantic” evening in the Library of Congress. Gandy and Hoover share a special relationship, as she becomes the keeper of all his secret files.

All in all, Clint Eastwood attempts and succeeds at depicting the life of one of the most controversial, yet feared men in American political history.

This film is a worthy and remarkable attempt at providing clarity into a life that was fought long and hard to be kept a secret. Eastwood succeeds in creating a film that spans time beginning with the Bolshevik Revolution, peaking with the Lindbergh kidnapping and ending with the controversy of the Nixon administration while still preserving historical accuracy in terms of dress and the culture of the times. This is a brilliantly done film that deserves the credit where it is due.

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