Of all the sorry sacks of shit this country ever spawned, J. Edgar Hoover was the sorriest until Dick Cheney came along. Forget Benedict Arnold, forget all the other spies and traitors, Hoover presented the greatest threat to our constitution and freedoms than anyone else. Like all super-patriots, his real interest was personal power, and he accumulated it every year of his life, until he sat like a bloated, smelly, poisonous toad on enough illegally-gained tools of blackmail to pretty much destroy this country if he chose to do so. One of the few good things I can say that he ever did in his life was to destroy all that shit posthumously, through his ever-faithful personal secretary, Helen Gandy. And he didn’t even do that for his country, he did it because he hated Richard Nixon and didn’t want it all to fall into his hands. Hell, he hated pretty much everybody.
I can understand why Leonardo DiCaprio wanted to play this part. Any actor would revel in it. I find it a little harder to see why Clint Eastwood wanted to make it. To make a biography of someone so loathsome … I couldn’t do it. And it’s difficult for me to enjoy a film about someone I hate so much—I still haven’t seen Oliver Stone’s W. and I probably never will. That rat bastard is still alive. But it’s a good movie, within the limitations of the genre. It hopscotches over his life from his first days at the Bureau of Investigation, when they weren’t even allowed to carry firearms, to his death. We see him in all his horrible paranoia and egomania, get glimpses of all the things he did to undermine all our civil rights, and all the lies he told. (These lies are presented as facts, until near the end there is a summing up, and we see what actually happened.) One of the tools government uses to justify its existence is fear, and Hoover was a master at it. Fear of communists, fear of Negroes, fear of pathetic nobodies like the Weathermen. During times of fear most people are eager to jettison their civil rights in the name of staying safe, as we’ve seen once more in the last decade, when 9/11 proved such a godsend to the masters of war and fear. Hoover would have known exactly how to make the most of it.
With Hoover, there is always the question of homosexuality and cross-dressing. How would Eastwood handle this? After all, in spite of all the allegations, there exists no proof that he ever donned an evening gown. I think his homosexuality (I can’t bring myself to use the word “gay” when describing him) is pretty much given … but how are you going to show that? Fairly obliquely, as it turns out. We’ll never know just how far Hoover and Clyde Tolson expressed their mutual love, but the scene where it is spelled out as opposed to being just hinted at struck me as a plausible scene. Oddly enough, the only thing I can find to admire about Hoover is the only thing in his life that he was certainly deeply ashamed of: his love for Tolson. These days, who cares if he was … okay, gay … who cares if he wore women’s clothing? But like many other self-hating gay men of that generation (such as that prick Roy Cohn), he made up for it by hating queers all the more, going after them legally and with blackmail with exaggerated fervor, and possibly never admitting even to himself that he was “one of them.”