On the flight back I watched Clint Eastwood’s 2011 J. Edgar, starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role as the FBI’s founding father. The script portrays Hoover as an inwardly tormented and sexually confused man whose driving ambition is never really explained (though it is implied that his domineering mother, played by Judi Dench, had something to do with it). DiCaprio does inward torment very well (think The Aviator) and his performance carries what would otherwise be a lacklustre and somewhat confused film. But he can’t carry it all the way. Altogether, Hoover directed the FBI and its predecessors for 48 years. So what did that make him? The tormented soul of the film version (which doesn’t confront the rumours about cross-dressing, by-the-way) or a highly accomplished bureaucrat who introduced modern methods of detecting and knew how to survive in Washington’s political jungle (not least because he knew where the bodies were buried)? The script has Hoover deliberately plunge into a homosexual relationship with Clyde Tolson but the relationship is only portrayed in a series of clichés and, having established his sexuality so firmly, the film never confronts the anti-homosexual prejudices and activites of the institution he was heading up. Was this the ultimate betrayal? We never learn. One of Hoover’s early FBI successes was the killing of John Dillinger and in a sense this film closed a circle that had opened for me in Chicago. But it left me feeling frustrated because, notwithstanding DiCaprio’s thespian heroics, we never really find out what might have made Hoover tick. That’s a shame, because Hoover and the FBI were working at one of the great faultlines of the USA, between the states and the federation. Indeed, the creation and consolidation of the FBI is as much a part of the USA’s evolution as the creation and consolidation of the Federal Reserve and Hoover’s ambitions could only be played out through a consolidation of the federal level.