Hide & Seek


The first thing to be said about J. Edgar, the biopic about the late FBI director, is that it is an unexpectedly forbearing, even pitying look at J. Edgar Hoover. The second: With pity like this, who needs calumny?

Written by Dustin Lance Black and directed by Clint Eastwood, this movie turns out to be the negative complement of another biopic, Milk, also written by Black. That 2008 film was fairly good, but it was marred by sentimentality and a strong tendency toward hagiography. In it, Harvey Milk, a San Francisco city supervisor, ascended to cinematic sainthood by coming out of the closet and urging other homosexuals to do the same, thereby attaining psychic health and full citizenship. Milk benefited from its panoramic, often witty view of the Bay Area gay community, a shrewd sense of urban politics, and a remarkable performance by Sean Penn.

For Eastwood, Black has conjured a Hoover who does the opposite of Milk: he flees recognition of his homosexuality and channels his psychic and erotic energy into a control freak’s dream, gathering information not only on those he perceives as America’s enemies, but on anyone in the government who gets in the way of his career or who objects to his methods. It’s not a bad notion for a political black comedy: little, pug-faced, anal-retentive, mother-dominated Edgar undermines democracy because he can’t give in to his...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.