2005 - R - 109 min. Mins.
|Director: Bennett Miller|
|Producer: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Dan Futterman, Kerry Rock, Danny Rosett|
|Written By: Dan Futterman|
|Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Mark Pellegrino, Chris Cooper |
|Review by: Ben Samara
|Official Site: www.sonyclassics.com/capote/|
First thing’s first: ‘Capote’ is all about the performance of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Every other aspect of this film is on the second tier. Hoffman is in his glory as legendary author Truman Capote, capturing every nuance that made the man the fascinating character he was. His performance is the catalyst for this eerie and sinister true tale about crossing the line to achieve a goal. The film succeeds as a candid look at the troubled writer’s character and behaviors.
The story of ‘Capote’ follows the author on his quest to complete his greatest literary work, ‘In Cold Blood.’ In 1959, he traveled to a small town in Kansas after the brutal murder of a family. There, he developed a morbidly close relationship with one of the killers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins, Jr.). It was a friendship that severely compromised his journalistic integrity as well as his book.
Capote was a complicated man to be sure. He was an eccentric, but also a man about town. He also wasn’t above deceiving people to get what he wanted. From the start, we see countless scenes of Capote hamming it up with friends, colleagues and yes-men at various bars and clubs. He loved to tell stories of his adventures in writing, and surely ‘In Cold Blood’ would be his greatest adventure yet.
Capote traveled to Kansas with his friend and fellow writer, Nell Harper Lee (Catherine Keener). Lee was in the middle of writing ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ but she took the time out to make the initial journey with her good friend. Perhaps she knew how big this story would eventually become, or maybe she sensed that Capote had the potential to get in over his head.
Once in Kansas, Capote pulled out all the tricks in his bag to get what he needed. He used his notoriety to befriend the wife of the police chief, gaining entrance to his home and to his information. He brought breakfast and a signed book to the Sheriff’s quarters and obtained access to the cell where Perry Smith was being held. During his first brief conversation with Smith, Capote felt some sort of bizarre connection to the man. He developed a fascination with the killer, explaining it to Lee later by saying, “It's as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he went out the back door and I went out the front.”
Capote knew his book was going to be a huge success, but he needed Smith to tell him about that one fateful night before he could complete it. He arranged for Smith and his accomplice, Richard Hickock (Mark Pellegrino), to get a new lawyer. Through various appeals and stays, their execution was delayed for years. All the while, a conflicted Capote held court with Smith in his cell, sometimes trying to pull out vital information, sometimes just to be close to the man he was infatuated with.
As Capote struggled to keep his obsession from being hung, he also realized that he would never finish his book without a proper ending to the story. If the criminals walked, his book would be a wash. As the days went by, he became more and more conflicted and confused. This is where we begin to see shades of the alcoholism that eventually led to his demise.
Throughout all of this, Hoffman never loses his stride. He’s perfect all the way, from his effeminate manner of speech, to his mannerisms, to the subtle thoughts we know he’s thinking but can’t hear. After paying his dues as a character actor in films like ‘Twister,’ ‘Boogie Nights’ and ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley,’ it’s nice to see Hoffman finally get his chance to shine in a solid leading role. He’s relishing the moment here, and it’s going to pay off with a lot of awards.
Although ‘Capote’ drags on a little big during the second third, director Bennett Miller still does a very good job of managing this story. The direction is nothing special, but everything looks and feels like it should.
Writer Dan Futterman does an excellent job in adapting Gerald Clarke’s biography of Truman Capote to the big screen. He doesn’t sympathize with the killers, even though Capote may have himself. Any understanding we see is though Capote’s eyes as he struggles with his decisions. Futterman also gives the supporting players some excellent details to work with. This is especially evident with the character of Perry Smith. Because of Futterman’s first-rate screenplay, Clifton Collins, Jr. is able to turn in a multi-layered and tragic performance.
The only place Futterman really falters is with the character of Harper Lee. Catherine Keener has been getting some kudos for her work in this role, but the reality is that she doesn’t have much to work with here. Lee is supposed to serve as the bridge between the audience and Capote, but she isn’t on screen for long enough to be that bridge. Her character also isn’t developed enough to stand on its own. Still, Keener does do a good job with what she has to work with.
Despite some minor flaws in execution, ‘Capote’ is still a very strong, poignant film. On the shoulders of the flawless Hoffman, it thrives as a creepy examination of a complex man and his greatest work.