Wednesday, November 16, 2011

J. Edgar - The Cool Black Review

J. Edgar

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Produced by Clint Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Robert Lorenz

Cinematography by Tom Stern

Released: November 11, 2011 (USA)

Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover
Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson
Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy
Judi Dench as Anna Marie, Hoover's mother.
Ed Westwick as Agent Smith, Hoover's biographer.

Summary: A biographical drama that focuses on the career of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover from the Palmer Raids onwards, including an examination of his private life as an alleged closeted (and chaste) homosexual.

Review: Far from a perfect picture given the personnel involved (Eastwood, DiCaprio), but still a good picture on many levels. Not told in straight chronological order, the film jumped back and forth in time showing Hoover as a young man and then as an old man telling his story to biographer Agent Smith.

The story jumped back and forth through time too much for my tastes, but I could see where Eastwood didn’t want it to seem like a lot of the many bio pics that have been told. Yet even the old telling the story to a biographer, confidant or reporter has been used time and time again.

While the film shows how Hoover was appointed to start the FBI and everything he did instituting a number of modern innovations to police technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories, it also of course details Hoover’s determination to collect information on everyone and I mean EVERYONE from the presidents to their wives. The film also doesn’t shy away from his personal life focusing a lot on his “private life as an alleged closeted (and chaste) homosexual.” and his Oedipus-like relationship with his mother Anna Marie. Given all that it was trying to show in a somewhat short time frame (2 hrs 17minutes) I guess that’s why the film kind of glossed over a particular interest of mine, his starting of COINTELPRO (more on that in the commentary following the review).

Leonardo DiCaprio was good as always, but of particular excellence was Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson and Judi Dench as Anna Marie, Hoover's mother. Both gave stellar performances in their roles.

In the end, while I recommend J. Edgar is does have its flaws and could have been given more clarity without all the jumps back and forth in time. I felt about this like I felt about the Ray Charles biopic Ray (2004). When you cover someone’s life and work for a span of some 50 plus years a film can be too long...and too short.

Cool Black’s Mad Commentary…& info: As I said above I wanted to see more about COINTELPRO.

COINTELPRO (an acronym for Counter Intelligence Program) was a series of covert, and often illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations started by Hoover in 1956.-Wikipedia
I found that the TV show American Gangster did a good job at describing and depicting COINTELPRO.

American Gangster is a documentary television series, which aired on BET. The show featured some of black America's most infamous and powerful gangsters, narrated by Ving Rhames.

In April 2009, A&E Networks purchased the rights to air seasons 1–3 on their networks. They can be seen primarily on the Bio Channel and the flagship A&E Channel. They can also be seen on A&E's Crime and Investigation Network. - Wikipedia
While "the show featured some of black America's most infamous and powerful gangsters." It took a somewhat slight departure and had the Season Three, Episode 5 titled "J. Edgar Hoover & COINTELPRO" (airdate November 20, 2008) where it detailed J. Edgar Hoover's staunch and illegal determination to thwart ANYONE he thought as subversive.

Season Three is NOT available on DVD, but it is available on various VOD (Video On Demand) platforms like Amazon and iTunes.

You can read a review of the "J. Edgar Hoover & COINTELPRO" episode here

Cool Black's Final Say: Well YOU might say, what is this review doing on a blog devoted to "African Americans in the Media" well because I wanted to and I also wanted to point out what the film DID NOT cover especically the inexorable pursuit and disruption of the many black groups during that era. Yes he pursued other factions, but the black factions are the ones I was interested in.

I could have just written a blog featuring the Cool Black’s Mad Commentary…& info portion, but I'm a filmmaker so I wanted to review the film as well and that is my Final Say© LOL


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