A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this Clint Eastwood-directed biopic about longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is rated R primarily for a couple of brief but notable scenes of strong language (including "f--k"). J. Edgar focuses on both Hoover's career and his personal life, especially the never-defined relationship with longtime companion Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). While the movie raises questions about Hoover's sexuality that it doesn't answer, there's no actual sex in it (though one scene features apparent recorded noises of an amorous couple). Expect a few violent fist fights and shoot outs.
What's the story?
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as J. Edgar Hoover, the man who led the FBI for almost 50 years, through eight presidents and three wars. Hoover devoted his life to the bureau, though his personal animosity toward minorities and radicals sometimes led to operations of dubious legality. J. EDGAR focuses on both Hoover's career and his personal life, especially his never-defined relationship with colleague/longtime companion Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Naomi Watts co-stars as Hoover's personal secretary, Helen Gandy, who was privy to many of his secrets, especially his personal files that supposedly contained damning secrets about many of the country's most powerful people.
Is it any good?
J. Edgar is a curious mix: It's slow, almost glacial, in parts, and then quickly, shockingly moving in others; it's cerebral, almost distant, and then emotionally raw. This much, though, isn't up for debate: DiCaprio's masterful performance. Insecure, aggressive, fragile, ambitious, and stunted, Hoover is a very complicated character -- and one who's very difficult to pull off. But DiCaprio leaves nothing on the table; he's all in, and it's a gamble he wins. He's matched by Hammer, who demonstrates again that he's an actor who understands nuance and delivers it. And Watts, too, proves why she's one of the best actresses around. Her withering stares wither, indeed, and her pitying glances are painful.
Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black takes on a mountain of a subject and mostly conquers it; he distills much of it manageably, if not always successfully. The Lindbergh case takes up a chunk of the storyline -- perhaps too much. Hoover's mother, played frighteningly, winningly close to the bone by grande dame Judi Dench, is so horrific that you have to wonder whether J. Edgar is laying too much of Hoover's dysfunction at her feet. But the abiding bond between Hoover and Tolson grounds much of this beautifully filmed history in emotion. It is by no means fact that Hoover and Tolson were lovers. But in J. Edgar, they're heartbreaking.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Hoover's relationship with Tolson. Were they friends or more than friends? Do you think the film is asking a question that can never really be answered? Should it be?
Was Hoover a reliable narrator? Do you think his memories are accurate?
Do you consider Hoover a role model? What does the movie say about the motivations of people in a position of power? Are they always noble?
For kids who love true stories
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.