Hoover? Damn!

‘J. Edgar’ tries — and almost succeeds — at being ‘Brokeback’ for G-Men

G-MEN, X-RATED  |  Tolson (Armie Hammer) and Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) carry on in ‘J. Edgar.’

G-MEN, X-RATED | Tolson (Armie Hammer) and Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) carry on in ‘J. Edgar.’

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3 out of 5 stars
J. EDGAR
Leo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Judi Dench. Rated R. 145 mins.  Now playing in limited release.

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Before he became the nation’s most famous lawmen (one who never carried a gun or made an arrest), J. Edgar Hoover’s greatest governmental accomplishment was organizing the system for card cataloging the Library of Congress, and in Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay for J. Edgar, that speaks volumes. Hoover thought of everything — books, people, information — as things to be categorized and managed. “Believe in the individual” Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) says near the end of the film, without a hint of realization that his entire career was a slow repudiation of that principle.

Hoover was, simply, a scary son of a bitch, a homegrown Torquemada clothed with the mantle of democracy.

That’s not something I’m sure J. Edgar fully captures. Hoover was an innovator of law enforcement: He believed in process, in the value of centralizing information like fingerprints, and of preserving evidence in situ.
But as with many well-intentioned people who rise to unbridled power, he abused it. Personal and political enemies were targeted, if not outright blackmailed; the constitution became more barrier than guideline. You can see how Hoover’s FBI laid the groundwork for the Bush Administration’s unironic use of “extraordinary rendition” as a euphemism for torture; the U.S. doesn’t torture as a precept, so anything we do in the name of safety must be proper.

J. Edgar gets off to a shaky start, but it grows on you. Our first sight of Hoover is of DiCaprio pinched into an overdone old-man latex mask that looks comical, like Lord Voldemort in a Brooks Bros. suit. The film is bookended by the sunset of Hoover’s life while recording his memoirs, and the start of his career, only until about 1935; that leaves a generation of villainy during the Cold War and Civil Rights Movement almost untouched by Black and director Clint Eastwood. Some things had to come out, of course; but the gap feels gaping.

None of this is to say Black’s screenplay doesn’t succeed on several levels. He portrays Hoover as a spiritual brother of Norman Bates: Emotionally arrested, mother-obsessed (a scene where he dressed in his dead mom’s clothes is singularly creepy) and expressing his frustrations in inappropriate ways.

He also presents us with one of the most perversely touching love stories of the year: The very public but very secret romance between Hoover and his aide, Clyde Tolson. Tolson, played with model-good-looks and a seductive, pantherish stealth by Armie Hammer, humanizes Hoover. He serves, often ineffectively, as the moral guidepost, the floating conscious of a notoriously paranoid influence peddler who saw criticism as subversiveness and liberalism as treasonous. Eastwood is best directing as he hints, for the better part of an hour, at the sexual energy between them. It’s on the personal level that J. Edgar becomes something more than a biopic — it becomes Brokeback Capital Hill, a romance among G-Men.

Hammer is the most compelling actor on the screen, followed closely by Judi Dench as the most unnerving mom since Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate. But Leo falls flat. He doesn’t convey Hoover’s demagoguery with enough vitriol; it’s like he’s afraid of coming off as the villain.

Ultimately, maybe it doesn’t matter. Hoover’s political legacy speaks for itself; we have J. Edgar to remind us of the sad tragedy of being in the closet, and how even in unlikely times, love finds a way.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 11, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Clint Eastwood, Leonardo DiCaprio sound like they are about to de-gay Black’s Hoover script

In an interview with GQ, Clint Eastwood and Leonardo DiCaprio under-emphasize the gay aspect of tyrannical FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s reign in their upcoming biopic, J. Edgar, E Online is reporting. Considering that its screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, won an Oscar for his screenplay to another gay bio, Milk, their comments sound very disrespectful. Sigh. Well, we still plan to see it. It comes out Nov. 9.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Mission accomplished on DADT repeal

By Dave Guy-Gainer

After the signing ceremony on Wednesday, 15 of us made the trek from C Street to the Mayflower Hotel on foot to have brunch.

For the most part, the group was silent and being self-reflective. Major Mike Almy and I walked together and discussed what had happened to him and the E-Ticket ride of the repeal in Congress. We discussed his future and how it looked so much brighter now than it had less than a week prior.

Arriving at the hotel, Joe Tom Easley stopped all of us and reminded us that the hotel restaurant was where J. Edgar Hoover once had lunch with his male lover every day for the last 20 years of his life. The space where Hoover’s permanently reserved lunch table sat is now a PINK store. How appropriate, I thought.

After we sat down, nearly all had e-mails and voice mails to deal with — mostly from press asking for interviews and thoughts. We ordered a bottle of champagne and toasted the fall of this one domino in the fight for equality.

Then the conversation changed. It became one more like you would hear when a bunch of lesbians and gays sit down for a meal. One person said, “We need to get Barney Frank to look gayer. Maybe darken his hair and put in a few highlights.” People roared with laughter. We talked about Christmas plans — most of which had been obliterated by the call to travel to D.C. We talked a lot about our friends over the years that were not at the ceremony. We teased each other.

When brunch was over, there were heartfelt hugs and back pats and we each went our separate ways. Probably all thinking what I was — is this the last we’ll see of each other or is there a cause that will bring us back together?

I caught myself being myself at Reagan Airport — joking with strangers, opening the door for a lady struggling with bags and kids, telling the agent that I liked her rainbow pin. Wow, I thought. You had become so focused and perhaps a little too humorless.

When I boarded the plane I reached inside my coat pocket to pull out the notes I had made, the list of strategy options we were considering, the confidential list of congressional targets, the board briefing on legal support statistics, my talking points to memorize, my to-do list — but I found nothing in the pocket. That’s when it finally sunk in. I was leaving Washington, D.C., with nothing remaining to do. The passenger beside me looked at me strangely when I laughed out loud with eyes full of tears and said to myself, “Mission accomplished.”

I am taking Aaron Belkin’s advice. I asked him at dinner the other night, “What next?” He said, “A nap, Chief.” So, this old Santa Chief is off over this most wonderful of all Christmases to have cookies, milk and lotsa naps! I’ll be back on Monday, though, to do what I can on the certification and transition. After 10 years of negative, I’ll finally get to help with the positive aspects of change.

Implosion cancelled.

Dave Guy-Gainer is a board member for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and a retired Air Force chief master sergeant who lives in Tarrant County.

—  admin

Tim Gunn gets dishy with new tell-all

Tim Gunn, the avuncular mentor on Project Runway and creative director of Liz Claiborne, might be the last person you’d expect to dish cattily and gossip about his colleagues. But that’s exactly what he’s rumored to do in his new book, in stores today, Sept. 7.

“My deathly ill mother, if she’s alive Tuesday, won’t be Wednesday,” Gunn said about the explosiveness of some of his observations in Gunn’s Golden Rules, including Gunn’s suspicion that his father was a closeted gay man who had a sexual relationship with former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Among the other revelations:

• “I keep thinking Martha Stewart will never have me back on her show again. I mean, I love her. It’s her bratty daughter who troubles me so, and especially because Alexis is so willing to do this in public.”

• About Gretchen Jones, a contestant on the current season of Project Runway: “The behavior that Gretchen demonstrated on the runway during that Q with the judges is about as close to psychosis as anything I have seen on the show. … I would have sent Gretchen home! I probably would have been mistaken but that’s what I would have done.”

The enitre interview, which appears on the Web site TheFrisky.com, can be read here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones