Movie Review #909
|Limited release on September 30, 2005. Nationwide release on February 3, 2006. Biography/Crime/Drama. This film is rated R for some violent images and brief strong language. Runs 114 minutes. American-Canadian co-production. Director: Bennett Miller. Screenplay: Dan Futterman. Book: Gerald Clarke. Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., and Mark Pellegrino.|
A RIVETING MYSTERY DEFINED BY PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN’S PERFORMANCE.
By Alexander Diminiano
Perhaps one of the greatest literary curiosities of the 20th century is Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Anything we can say about the book, its author, the events, sound like urban legend. Since the 1940’s, Truman Capote had been a revolutionary and wildly successful (if wildly controversial) journalist, author, celebrity, pundit. In 1959, he became fascinated with a homicide that had occurred in Kansas. He declined to write a story about it for the New Yorker and instead decided to write a nonfiction novel about the homicide. (“Nonfiction novel” being a medium he actually invented for the purposes of writing In Cold Blood.) The book took him as much as seven years to write. It was greatly anticipated and extraordinarily successful, but Capote never finished another book after In Cold Blood.
Not much more is known about events that surrounded In Cold Blood. Readers have spent as much as five decades speculating on why the novel was so challenging to write, and why it singlehandedly plagued Capote with writers’ block. Bennett Miller’s “Capote” is, therefore, a highly fictionalized account of the author’s struggle to write his magnum opus. That’s not to say it isn’t a terrific movie. What “Amadeus” was for an enigmatic musician, this is for an equally mysterious writer.
Forget Bennett Miller’s excellent direction of “Capote”. Forget Dan Futterman’s powerhouse writing (quite impressively, this was his first screenplay), and forget Catherine Keener’s stellar performance as Capote’s longtime friend Harper Lee. Philip Seymour Hoffman steals the movie. He becomes the movie. He overthrows anything and anyone that could possibly get in the way of his performance and takes hold of the role of Truman Capote by the scruff of the neck. He captures every nuance of Capote’s voice, his attitude. When the movie is finished with, we see Capote as a more mysterious character than we ever had before.
“Capote” is a cross between a biopic and a murder mystery. In one sense, Capote isn’t even the subject here; his character develops indirectly. He’s more than a guy going around researching for his work-in-progress. He’s something of an unlicensed detective. He converses with Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, the to-be subjects of In Cold Blood, and has to lie to them repeatedly to stay friends with them. Initially, we have the notion (as do the criminals themselves) that he might actually have a fondness of the criminals. But we soon learn that he does everything for his own sake: all he is interested in is detailing the crime in his novel.
“Capote” is not many marks away from a masterpiece. It’s everything you see in its one-sheet: the bleak portrait of an individual, fraught with shades of uncertainty. The movie keeps the man a mystery. Better yet, it leaves its audience wanting so much more.