…his obsessive attention to the details of detection (he championed fingerprinting, hitherto thought of as a ‘speculative science’), his lack of love for the Kennedys, and his much-mused-over sexual persuasion.

Clint Eastwood’s film – starring DiCaprio as the driven yet often-mocked bureau head – touches on these, but fails to reveal much more than we already know about the man.

J Edgar tells of the radicals and communists that Hoover despised and feared, as well as the Thirties gangster wars and the civil rights movement, but focuses on two key influences in his life: his professional/personal, did they-didn’t-they relationship with the specially appointed FBI second-in-command Clyde Tolson (The Social Network’s Armie Hammer) and his domineering, frighteningly possessive mother (played by a stern and cold Judi Dench).

Told through flashbacks as an ageing Edgar narrates his memoirs to various writers, the narrative is denied any real focus. Edgar’s mother fuels the guilt in part responsible for the denying of his man-love for Clyde, his jealousy and insecurities fuel his fallouts with other agents and public figures. This focus on the personal over professional, though, means too little is shown of the era and its crimes, resulting in a strangely time-less film. DiCaprio is excellent (despite some dodgy prosthetics for Hoover’s latter years), nailing the accent and personal demons of a secretive man, but the film’s fumbled focus means this biopic underwhelms.


Good for: Seeing DiCaprio deliver a spellbinding performance sure to be Oscar-recognised.