Capote Reviewed by Sam Osborn
Rating: 3.5 out of 4
Director: Bennett Miller Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper Screenplay: Dan Futterman MPAA Classification: R (some violent images and brief strong language)
It seems that once a year we're treated to a performance so staggeringly magnificent that it seems as if the actor's a shoe-in for the Academy's Best Actor prize. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is just that actor for 2005. His portrayal of Truman Capote was best described by Telluride Film Festival's Galaxy Theater host as a "resurrection". Like Jamie Foxx's Ray, Charlize Theron's Monster, and Nicole Kidman's Virginia Wolfe, Hoffman's Capote is simply devastating. He stated at Telluride that after first accepting the role and watching a recording of Truman Capote he frankly thought he was in over his head. But throughout pre-production he gathered and compiled all of Capote's mannerisms and began practicing them, slowly and truly becoming Truman Capote. And from the first line of Hoffman's dialogue, with his squinched high voice, and self-absorbed tone we know he's succeeded. The actual film is nearly eclipsed by Hoffman's performance. But Director Bennett Miller and an impressive supporting cast manage to keep up with Hoffman's breakneck achievement. Shot in monochromatic, nearly black and white starkness, the film inherits a raw power that builds to its stunning climactic sequence. And although the film drags some in the middle, it finishes strong and leaves us with much to discuss. It's provocative, stark, and powerful.
Capote opens with the discovery of a family of four murdered in the small town of Hokum, Kansas in 1953 (don't quote me on the date, please). Coming off his second novel, Truman Capote (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is searching for his next project. Intrigued by the murders, he takes the investigation, agreeing on authoring an article for The New Yorker. Meeting with the town's Sheriff, Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper), he's met with opposition in the town for his peculiar manner. But his companion on the investigation, Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), offsets his homosexuality with terse, homegrown professionalism.
Months later the two killers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Richard Hickcock (Mark Pellegrino) are apprehended by Sheriff Dewey and soon sentenced to death. Finding himself increasingly drawn to the story by the sentence, Truman begins personally interviewing the murderers, particularly Perry Smith, at their maximum security prison. Avoiding discussion of the murders themselves, Capote learns more about their lives outside of crime, finding a humanity never put into print before and causing him to extend his article for The New Yorker into the full-length novel, In Cold Blood. It would be the first True Crime novel ever written. His extensive interviews with Smith lead to a strange relationship open to many terms of controversial interpretation. He feels compelled to assist the men and lead the world's opinion away from demonizing headlines. Capote even goes to lengths to find them a decent lawyer for their Supreme Court appeal.
The screenplay deals with this controversy between Capote and Smith with beautiful ambiguity. Screenwriter Dan Futterman leaves it to Capote's character to interpret their relationship for the audience, instead of the story doing so in a ham-handed way. And with Hoffman's performance so obsessively complete, the result is magnificent. We oddly understand Capote's pain and his unique love for Perry Smith. He obviously sees the monster inside, but realizes the human entirely. Some even speculated around the festival that Capote fell in love with Smith. It's incredibly profound.
But at the same time, Futterman's screenplay relies too much on Capote's obsession with Smith. Audience's in the 50's were terrified by Capote's humanistic realization of the murderer, but now, that sort of True Crime journalism is accepted, and even expected, from murder investigations. This reliance causes the film to linger too long on Capote's build-up interviews before the shocking, twisting confession he needs to finish the novel. Also, audiences have recently grown tired of the biopic, probably because of the last year's heaping pile of them. This mutes the typical drama that occurs in all dramatic biopics, with the character's slow deterioration.
Despite these flaws, Capote is still an arresting portrait of a murder. And to go along with this portrait is the complete resurrection of Truman Capote in Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The film works to succeed beyond a simple biopic. It also hits on the difficult topic of true crime, delving into the imagination and conscience of a man that killed in cold blood.