Directed by Clint Eastwood from a screenplay by “Milk’s” Dustin Lance Black, it manages to squeeze in milestones and missteps of the celebrated FBI director, as well as his relationship with friend and partner Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), whom he recruits into his organization despite being unqualified.
“J. Edgar” is kept interesting by two separately unfolding stories; one takes place during his last days with the FBI, and the other centers on his younger, more enthusiastic years. The socially awkward young man is shown having a chaste, professional relationship with his secretary Helen (Naomi Watts) during the early years. It’s also revealed that he had a close bond with his mother (Judi Dench), who was very supportive but was severely homophobic.
The film moves when focusing on Edgar’s struggles or expressions involving his sexuality; DiCaprio naturally imbues the role with tangible and relatable layers, even when his prosthetic-enhanced face looks less than real and nothing like Hoover. It’s a bit long, but it’s a rewarding look into the historic figure’s obsessions, manipulations, and bouts with repression.