J. Edgar is Eastwood’s first biopic since Bird, and it has a similarly elliptical, elusive feel. Although it covers J. Edgar Hoover’s entire career at the FBI, it’s mostly a study of his mannerisms, especially the way in which he learned to craft speech, sound bites and aphorisms, which makes for a perfect match with Leonardo DiCaprio’s strained, spitfire diction. In keeping with Hoover's particular insistence that “what determines a man’s legacy is often what isn’t seen,” Eastwood amps up the classicist palette of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima, coming about as close as colour cinema can to a black-and-white palette. As a result, there’s darkness, obscurity and obfuscation everywhere (nearly everyone’s eyes are occluded, at least during the first third), as Eastwood creates tableaux that are never fully visualised or conceptualised as scenes. For all that the film has been criticised for sweeping Hoover’s private life under the cover, though, screenwriter Dustin Lance Black brings a classicism of his own to his refusal to paint Hoover’s friendship with long-time companion Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) as either liberated or closeted. Where a more conventional biopic might have been content to present Hoover and Tolson as gay, Black – and Eastwood – manage both more and less than that: they present them as married. That makes for quite an astounding male melodrama, a clear forerunner to Behind the Candelabra, as Hoover’s insistence on the FBI as a repository of long-term relationships segues quite effortlessly into his private life. Without allegorising too much, it’s hard not see the odd couple of Eastwood and Black as a corollary to the offhand support Eastwood gave to gay marriage around this time – and, as in Milk, the novelty of gay domestic life is that there is no novelty, so intricately does Eastwood weave it into his classicist texture; you barely notice that it’s what transforms John Edgar Hoover into J. Edgar. And that’s what allows Eastwood and Black to respect Hoover’s privacy even as they critique the very policies that allowed him to undermine American privacy, in a scrupulously courteous tribute to American private life, part liberal and part libertarian.