I had high hopes for Clint Eastwood’s recent biopic of J. Edgar Hoover, simply titled J. Edgar. I expected the film to focus on the career of this fascinating and polarizing American, and how he managed to endure for five decades in a highly political environment where few survive for longer than a Presidential term. I certainly did not expect a romance story, and I’m not the only one who agrees: witness the poor reviews all around, from people all over the political spectrum. Dana Stevens from Slate criticizes the film for not making “a case either for or against the troubled figure at its center,” instead taking a detached view of Hoover’s actions as FBI director.
To put it bluntly, why does our society care so much about the private issues and sex scandals of great men and women, and not about their professional accomplishments? In his time as head of the agency, Hoover accomplished a great deal including:
Restructured the FBI and turned it into a professional, well-run law enforcement agency
Captured famous outlaws and bank robbers in the 1930’s, such as John Dillinger
Arrested German spies and Nazi saboteurs during World War II
Despite all of the good he did, he also maintained secret files on many Americans, an act that overstepped the FBI’s authority. Yet, the movie touches upon very few of Hoover’s major accomplishments or controversies.
Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black ignore this rich historical material, and instead focus on Hoover’s relationship with the associate director of the FBI, Clyde Tolson. Why do the filmmakers care so much about his private life? Hoover’s alleged homosexuality has been used a sideshow, and it disappointed me that the filmmakers chose to buy into this theme instead of presenting an even-handed depiction of his life. We deserve a better movie treatment of this pivotal and influential figure, and J. Edgar Hoover deserves a better treatment of his legacy.
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