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Clint Eastwood Takes On FBI Legend 'J. Edgar'


And let's talk now about a man who served his country out of uniform for generations. J. Edgar Hoover created the Federal Bureau of Investigation as we know it today. In his lifetime, he built up an image as a hero. His career went from the end of World War I to the 1970s. Since death in 1972, many have reevaluated Hoover as a menace. Now, Hoover is the subject of a movie in which he is played by Leonardo DiCaprio, in a film directed by Clint Eastwood. Kenneth Turan has a review.

KENNETH TURAN: "J. Edgar" is a brooding melodrama with strong political overtones that examines the public and private life of a man with a phenomenal will to power, a man who headed the omnipotent Federal Bureau of Investigation for 48 years. Though in theory, he served eight presidents, in practice, J. Edgar Hoover served only himself. Hoover did champion scientific crime-fighting in general, and the use of fingerprints in particular. Here, he faces off against a dubious state police official in the aftermath of the kidnapping of Charles Lindberg's infant son.


LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (as J. Edgar Hoover) Where's the ransom note?

DERMOT MULRONEY: (as Colonel Schwartzkopf) Of course.

DICAPRIO: (as J. Edgar Hoover) You are touching that with your bare hands, as well.

MULRONEY: (as Colonel Schwartzkopf) We checked. They are none of those finger imprints that you fancy so valuable, Mr. Hoover.

DICAPRIO: (as J. Edgar Hoover) Please hand it over, Mr. Schwarzkopf.

MULRONEY: (as Colonel Schwartzkopf). That's Colonel Schwartzkopf.

TURAN: But we see much more of Hoover's dark, pathological side, of his mania for collecting incriminating evidence on people like Martin Luther King, Jr. He even taped President John F. Kennedy in a compromising position and used the transcript to get what he wanted from Kennedy's brother, Robert.


JEFFREY DONOVAN: (as Robert Kennedy) Please leave the transcripts here with me.

DICAPRIO: (as J. Edgar Hoover) Yes, sir. Oh, and feel free and share them with your brother. Oh, and let him know that I have a copy of my own for safekeeping.

TURAN: "J. Edgar" also deals with Hoover's unacknowledged private life, his lifelong personal attachment to Clyde Tolson, his closest colleague at the FBI.


TURAN: "J. Edgar" theorizes that the men had strong feelings for each other that were never acted on, a situation that gives Hoover's story unexpected poignance. We must never forget our history, Hoover was fond of saying. We must never lower our guard. The FBI director was concerned about Communists, but this film insists it's not reds we need to worry about, but people very much like J. Edgar Hoover himself.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kenneth Turan
Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.