Capote

by Alan Rapp on October 28, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

An interesting and well made character study with terrifc performances by the entire cast, especially Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role…yet Capote fails in the same way many biographical films of recent years as, in the end, we are left appreciative but unfulfilled.

Capote
4 Stars

Capote is the latest biographical film that provides a wonderful juicy role for an actor, this time for Philip Seymour Hoffman.  The film is well shot and pieced together, and cleverly cast with great performances.  Yet….there is something missing.  Although this is a very good film, almost completely overshadowed by Hoffman’s performance, it never becomes the great film it aspires to be.

One Cold Blooded Bastard

The film looks at Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) during his period of researching and writing his nonfiction novel In Cold Blood.  Traveling to Kansas with him is his friend and confidant Harper Lee (Catherine Keener).  Capote interviews the town sheriff Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) and his family about the murder of a local family.

Two men are arrested and charged for the crime, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino).  They are tried and sentenced to hang for the murders.  Capote befriends Perry and gets them a new lawyer to file an appeal in order to keep the two alive long enough for him to get the full story of the murders for his book.

Capote uses everyone until he gets what he needs and then tosses them away like used tissue.  After he has what he needs from Perry and Dick he abandons them to the legal system hoping that their execution won’t be put off too long because it would interfere with his ending for the book.

As with many recent bio-films, such as The Aviator and Man on the Moon, we get an interesting but hollow movie.  The subjects are somewhat interesting, but we are left with the nagging question “Why was this film made?” 

Capote shows the events of his life, but gives us no reason to make any emotional investment in the outcome.  He is such a self-centered user that it is hard to care for him, yet the film doesn’t go far enough for us to hate him either.  The most likable characters of the piece turn out to be the killers, which I doubt was the original premise for the film.

The film points out that Capote was never able to finish another book after the events described in the movie, but we are never really shown the effect of the events on him over time.  What we are shown throughout the film is a person that is totally self involved and can detach himself from any situation or responsibility.

There are many positives here as well.  Hoffman dominates the screen as Truman Capote, although it did take me a little time to get used to his cartoonish dialect.  Keener is an inspired casting for Harper Lee and I wish she had a bigger role in the film.  Bruce Greenwood has a nice supporting role as Capote’s better half.

The film is shot and edited with a certain flair.  We get long sweeping shots of the desolate Kansas “wilderness” compared to the busy 24/7 party of New York City.  The scene of the execution is in particular is very well, pardon the pun, executed—truly jarring.

There are many reasons to see Capote.  Although the film never quite clicks on all cylinders for me, it works on many levels and is quite a good movie.  Hoffman will no doubt get strong Oscar consideration for his work, but although the acting is one of the best aspects of the film I noticed that none of the actors give the best performances of their careers; odd but true and not unlike the life of Truman Capote.

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