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J Edgar (DQ)


Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Naomi Watts, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench, Ken Howard, Jessica Hecht, Josh Lucas, Dermot Mulroney, Jamie LaBarber, Lea Thompson, Damon Herriman, Josh Hamilton, Jeffrey Donovan, Ernest Harden Jr

Director: Clint Eastwood

A complicated, uptight man unable to express his feelings, J Edgar Hoover was the face of the FBI for more than 50 years. Eastwood's film, beautifully set in period whatever the year, as one might expect, examines what he was, what he did and what he said he did but didn't.

Proposing to new employee Helen Gandy (Watts) on their second meeting, because that what he feels he should do - she refuses and becomes his secretary - Hoover is really attracted to his second-in-command Clyde Tolson (Hammer), even though he also has an affair with film star Dorothy Lamour and considers marriage there too.

Meanwhile, he lives with his over-fussy mother (Dench with a passing US accent) and wipes his hands after every handshake.

His pursuit of Prohibition criminals and bank robbers brings him fame, although he has less success with the case of the baby son of aviator Charles Lindbergh (Lucas), even though the perpetrator is eventually apprehended. And he remains a figurehead rather than the active participant in gang-busting he would like the Press to believe.

On the other hand, Hoover does revolutionise the bureau of investigation, bringing in fingerprint and other records, and ensuring all agents are armed, though he could fire them if they wore the wrong suit.

DiCaprio plays him as a sort of Citizen Kane of crime prevention; it's a very mannered performance that undoubtedly stems from a study of the real thing, but doesn't seem very relaxed (but I guess Hoover wasn't a relaxed kind of guy). His old-age makeup, though, is truly excellent, more so than Hammer's, whose older Tolson looks not so much aged as embalmed.

Despite its technical qualities, the film remains a bit of a tough watch (much as James Stewart's The FBI Story was decades ago). Hampered by a talky script, the story never grips us as it should. In fact, the best film on this subject remains Larry Cohen's The Private Files of J Edgar Hoover, made as long ago as 1977.

David Quinlan

USA 2011. UK Distributor: Warner Brothers. Technicolor.
136 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 1, Swearing 1.

Review date: 21 Jan 2012