December 5, 2023

Media Decoder: A Critique for Clint Eastwood’s ‘J. Edgar’ Movie

LOS ANGELES — Larry Cohen has issues — 17 pages’ worth — with “J. Edgar,” the movie now being shot here by Clint Eastwood for Imagine Entertainment and Warner Brothers with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role as J. Edgar Hoover.

J. Edgar Hoover, left, the director of the F.B.I., and Clyde Tolson, in 1950.Associated Press J. Edgar Hoover, left, the director of the F.B.I., and Clyde Tolson, in 1950.

Mr. Cohen is a writer and director who was in the news when his sister, the publicist Ronni Chasen, was murdered last year, and whose “The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover” was released in 1977 with Broderick Crawford in the lead. He has now compiled a lengthy critique of the new Hoover film, based on his reading of a screenplay by Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for “Milk.”

Mr. Cohen’s biggest gripe is what he describes as the film’s portrayal of Mr. Hoover, the longtime director of the F.B.I., “as a closeted gay man.”

In his critique, which Mr. Cohen said he planned to post online if he could find a proper forum, he acknowledges that Hoover has long been the subject of reports and rumors of cross-dressing and a hidden sexual relationship with his aide Clyde Tolson (who died in 1975, three years after Hoover).

But Mr. Cohen insists that the stories, which made a splash in Anthony Summers’s 1993 biography “Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover,” are not backed up by credible evidence that Mr. Hoover was “anything but asexual.”

Based on its script, Mr. Eastwood’s movie will dwell heavily on the Lindbergh kidnapping case, in which, by Mr. Cohen’s assessment, Hoover “had only the most peripheral involvement.” And the film makes much of Hoover’s reluctance to pursue the Mafia, he contends, but underestimates the positive effect of what he calls a “gentleman’s agreement,” under which Hoover supposedly let crime bosses operate prostitution and gambling rings, as long as they helped to block the narcotics trade.

“Hoover did a lot of bad things to a lot of people, I just don’t think he deserves to have this perpetuated,” said Mr. Cohen, who spoke by phone last week of the new movie, on which he was briefly invited to do some work that never materialized.

Warner is unfazed. In a statement, the studio said: “Mr. Cohen read an early draft of the script that had yet to be properly vetted. His critique, however well researched, is not based on the actual shooting script.”

Mr. Cohen, in his memo, suggests a remedy. He recommends that anyone who sees Mr. Eastwood’s film also take a look at his, which, he writes, will be available on a DVD from MGM.

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