Filmgoers begin to spy scenes of Clint Eastwood's 'J. Edgar'
It's been one of the intriguing cinematic — and political — questions since Clint Eastwood announced he was tackling the subject of J. Edgar Hoover. Would Eastwood, known in his films for a Western-influenced code of right and wrong, paint the former FBI director in binary colors or more interesting shades of gray?
Judging by the trailer released late Monday, it seems he's leaning toward the latter. In "J. Edgar," Hoover (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is shown as a man who exceeded his authority, letting his own surveillance system run amok as he used it to settle personal grudges and spy on the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt (among plenty of others). But there are also hints of a more human portrait, particularly in the attempt to show Hoover's motivations, like the influence of his stern mother, Anna Marie Hoover (Judi Dench) — that, whatever you think of the FBI founder, may make for a more compelling movie.
Damnable pieces of Hoover's slippery-slope logic, like "Sometimes you need to bend the rules a little in order to keep your country safe," are juxtaposed with more psychologically oriented quotes such as "All the admiration in the world can't fill the spot where love goes," said to Hoover by his longtime assistant and confidant Helen Gandy (Naomi Watts).
(Incidentally, how all this will play to the right and the left in a politically charged election year is one of the season's juiciest questions.)
Apart from an intimation in one scene with Armie Hammer's Clyde Tolson, there doesn't seem to be much in the trailer about Hoover's much-rumored homosexuality. Although the screenplay was written by Dustin Lance Black, who penned the gay-rights activist drama "Milk," Eastwood had said he liked that Black "didn't quite go down that road."
Hoover's bursts of self-righteous rhetoric — DiCaprio continues his penchant, previously on display in movies like “The Aviator” and “Shutter Island,” for loner authority figures dancing between confidence and madness — will draw scrutiny, as will his accent and makeup. There will be plenty of time for that, and the inevitable cable-news chatter, ahead of the movie's release on Nov. 9.
— Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Leonardo DiCaprio as the title character in "J. Edgar." Credit: Warner Bros.