J. Edgar is a 2011 American biographical drama film directed, co-produced, and scored by Clint Eastwood. Written by Dustin Lance Black, the film focuses on the career of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover from the Palmer Raids onwards.
The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas, Judi Dench and Ed Westwick. J. Edgar opened the AFI Fest 2011 in Los Angeles on November 3, 2011, and had its limited release on November 9, followed by wide release on November 11.
The film opens with J. Edgar Hoover in his office during his later years. He talks to Agent Smith in order to tell the story of the origin of the FBI for the sake of the public. In 1919 A. Mitchell Palmer was Attorney General and Hoover's boss at the Justice Department when anarchists attempted to assassinate him by bombing his house, but the bomb explodes earlier than intended and he was not harmed. Hoover realized that criminal science was needed to handle such cases. Palmer puts him in charge of a new anti-radical division, at a time when even the Boston Police Department has been on strike, and the public fears immigrant anarchists. Hoover quickly began compiling a list of suspected radicals. He has a meeting with Helen Gandy, a new secretary at the Justice Department. Hoover takes Gandy to the Library of Congress, and shows her the card catalog system he devised. He makes an awkward pass at her, then proposes to her. She refuses him but agrees to become his personal secretary.
Despite his close monitoring of suspected foreign radicals, Hoover finds that the Department of Labor refuses to deport anyone without clear evidence of a crime. Learning that Anthony Caminetti, the Commissioner General of Immigration, dislikes the prominent anarchist Emma Goldman, Hoover arranges to discredit her marriage and make her eligible for deportation to her native Russia even though she is a naturalized American citizen. He creates a precedent of deportation for radical conspiracy. After several Justice Department raids of suspected radical groups, many leading to deportation of foreign nationals, Palmer loses his job as Attorney General. Under his successor Harlan F. Stone, Hoover is appointed as director of the Justice Department's new Bureau of Investigation. He meets Clyde Tolson, a new lawyer, and soon interviews and hires him.
The Bureau pursues a string of gangster and bank robbery crimes across the Midwest, including the high profile John Dillinger, with general success. When the Lindbergh kidnapping captures national attention, President Herbert Hoover asks the Bureau to investigate. Hoover employs several novel techniques, including the monitoring of registration numbers on ransom bills, and expert analysis of the kidnapper's handwriting. The founding of the FBI Crime Lab is seen as a product of Hoover's determination to analyze the homemade wooden ladder left at the crime scene. When the monitored bills begin showing up in New York City, the investigators find a filling station attendant who wrote down the license plate number of the man who gave him the bill. This leads to the arrest, and eventual conviction, of Bruno Richard Hauptmann for the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh child.
After Hoover, Tolson, and Hoover's mother attend a showing of the James Cagney film G Men, Hoover and Tolson decide to go out to a club, where Hoover is seated with Anita Colby, Ginger Rogers, and Rogers's mother Lela. When Colby asks Hoover if he ever wishes he had someone to keep him warm at night, he responds that he has dedicated his life to the bureau. Ginger's mother asks Hoover to dance and he becomes agitated, saying that he and Tolson must leave, as they have a lot of work to do in the morning. When he gets home he shares his dislike of dancing with girls with his mother, and she tells him she would rather have a dead son than a "daffodil" for a son. She insists on teaching him to dance, and they dance in her bedroom. Soon after, Hoover and Tolson go on a vacation to the horse races. That evening, Hoover tells Tolson that he cares deeply for him, and Tolson returns the feeling by stating that he loves Hoover. However, Hoover claims to be considering marriage to a young woman twenty years his junior, Dorothy Lamour, whom he has been seeing in New York City, provoking outrage from Tolson.
Tolson accuses Hoover making a fool out of him; they trade insults and punches, ending up fighting on the floor. Tolson suddenly kisses Hoover, who says that must never happen again; Tolson says that it won't, and tries to leave. Hoover apologizes and begs him to stay, but Tolson threatens to end their friendship if Hoover talks about another woman again. He leaves, with Hoover professing love for him moments after.
Years later, Hoover feels his strength begin to decline. He requires daily visits by a doctor. Tolson suffers a stroke and is severely weakened. Believing that he heard Martin Luther King, Jr. engage in extramarital sex, Hoover tries to blackmail the civil rights leader into declining his Nobel Peace Prize, sending him a letter threatening to expose his sexual life. King disregards this and accepts the prize.
Considering his mortality, Hoover tells Helen Gandy to destroy his secret files if he were to die, in order to prevent President Richard Nixon from possessing them. When he visits Tolson, the younger man urges him to retire. Hoover refuses, claiming that Nixon is going to destroy the bureau he has created. Tolson accuses Hoover of having exaggerated his involvement with key events of the Bureau. Moments later, Hoover tells Tolson that he needed him, more than he ever needed anyone else. He holds his hand, kisses his forehead, and leaves.
In the last passage, Hoover returns home from work, obviously weakened. Shortly after he goes upstairs, Tolson is called by Hoover's housekeeper. He goes to the house and finds Hoover dead next to his bed. Obviously grieving, he covers the man's body. Nixon gives a memorial speech on television for Hoover, while several members of his staff enter Hoover's office and search through the cabinets and drawers in search of his rumored "personal and confidential" files, but find nothing. In the last scene, Helen Gandy is seen destroying stacks of files.
- Leonardo DiCaprio as J. Edgar Hoover
- Armie Hammer as Clyde Tolson
- Naomi Watts as Helen Gandy
- Josh Lucas as Charles Lindbergh
- Judi Dench as Anna Marie Hoover, Hoover's mother
- Dermot Mulroney as Norman Schwarzkopf, Sr.
- Damon Herriman as Bruno Richard Hauptmann
- Jeffrey Donovan as Robert F. Kennedy
- Ed Westwick as Agent Smith, Hoover's biographer
- Zach Grenier as John Condon
- Ken Howard as U.S. Attorney General Harlan F. Stone
- Stephen Root as Arthur Koehler
- Denis O'Hare as Albert S. Osborn
- Geoff Pierson as A. Mitchell Palmer
- Lea Thompson as Lela Rogers
- Gunner Wright as Dwight D. Eisenhower
- Christopher Shyer as Richard Nixon
- Miles Fisher as Agent Garrison
- Jessica Hecht as Emma Goldman
- Michael O'Neill as Kenneth McKellar, US Senator
Charlize Theron, who was originally slated to play Helen Gandy, dropped out of the project to do Snow White and the Huntsman, and Eastwood considered Amy Adams before finally selecting Naomi Watts as Theron's replacement.