In his film J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood creates a very rare creature, a biographical film that feels neither directionless nor polemical. All too often those who venture into this genre do so in order to vindicate or condemn the subject in question; however, Eastwood and the screenwriter Dustin Lance Black do neither, painting a complicated portrait of this sympathetic monster.The film starts in the 1960’s with Hoover dictating his memoirs. Later on it’s made clear that he isn’t exactly a reliable narrator. This frames the set of flashbacks that will tell the story of Hoover’s directorship of the FBI, effectively condensing fifty years without ever seeming forced or rushed. We watch him join the bureau as a young man and make it gradually larger, more efficient and more powerful, all the time hording people’s secrets in confidential files and working to destroy those whose politics don’t align with his. Homosexuals are one of the groups Hoover persecutes and bans from the FBI, but of course he himself is gay. One of the remarkable features of this film is the complex love story, blighted by repression, between the main character and his life partner, Clyde Tolson (the charming Arnie Hammer). Black and Eastwood show us the tensions (they only kiss after a sexually charged fist fight) and intricacies of a relationship between two men who care deeply for each other even though one of them is almost incapable of showing it. By juxtaposing Hoover’s personal and professional life we see how his self-loathing and desire to suppress a fundamental element of himself is channeled externally in his grand desire to stifle dissent and disagreement. Black, who also wrote the screenplay for Milk, artfully presents Hoover and Tolson, neither as stereotypes, nor symbols, nor anachronisms, but two real people in every sense of the term. The voiceover narration used is one of the many elements that this film owes stylistically and thematically to film noir. This is a film about crime, paranoia, suspicion, and repression. These themes find expression in the cinematography and the lighting, which casts J. Edgar in deep chiaroscuro shadows. Deliberately drained of color, the film is almost black and white with dark greens, browns, and blues. This combination makes for high contrast compositions that were the hallmark of films before color became an industry standard. At the heart of this film is of course, J. Edgar Hoover, played wonderfully by Leonardo DiCaprio. He is assisted by a strong supporting cast including Naomi Watts as his loyal secretary who guards his notorious files and Judy Dench as his overbearing mother with whom he has an unhealthy obsession. When I saw this film, I had yet to watch Mr. DiCaprio in a role that required him to act, let alone perform through pounds of makeup. DiCaprio has previously done a good deal of work on biographical films, most notably Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, and is known for his desire to play interesting characters and his willingness to take risks which pays off in a film like this. He is riveting in his portrayal of this twisted man refusing to see that his methods betray the ideas that he claims to espouse, that he distorts the truth he is allegedly dedicated to finding, and that he would oppress others the way he himself is oppressed.