Home Entertainment Film & TV

Film of the week: J Edgar (15) starring Leonardo DiCaprio

DURING a turbulent and contentious term in power spanning almost 50 years, J Edgar Hoover was instrumental in the fight against mounting criminality on the streets of America.

In 1924, he was appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation, which became the FBI, and he threw his weight behind the latest developments in forensic science.

Hoover championed the creation of a centralised fingerprint database that allowed the agency to track offenders across states.

His achievements were considerable but his methods were heavily criticised, including secret dossiers on important figures, such as the presidents and their wives, which could be used to strengthen his position on Capitol Hill.

As Hoover, played with scenery-chewing gusto by Leonardo DiCaprio in Clint Eastwood’s slow-burning biopic, tells a close ally, “No-one freely shares power in Washington.”

Eastwood crafts a meticulous and elegiac portrait of the man, whose professional travails were almost as fascinating as the swirl of rumours surrounding his close relationship with FBI assistant director Clyde Tolson.

Away from the corridors of power, Hoover strives tirelessly to impress his domineering mother, Anna Marie (Dame Judi Dench).

J Edgar is overlong at 136 minutes and the make-up used to transform DiCaprio into a liver-spotted septuagenarian isn’t convincing.

However, his performance is electrifying, eyes burning bright as he tells Clyde, “Sometimes you have to bend the laws a little in order to keep your country safe.”

Dench offers sterling support, sending a chill down the spine as she makes clear her views on homosexuality to her boy: “I’d rather have a dead son than a daffodil for a son.”

The love story, which culminates in a kiss in a hotel room and an unconventional declaration of feelings, is handled with sensitivity and restraint – qualities which eluded the great man.