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Awesome: 37.86%
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12 reviews, 31 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Weird guy. Interesting life."
4 stars

When we first see Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman), his popularity seems very odd, even for the crowd he runs with. He's schlubby and self-centered, and his jokes aren't nearly as funny as his voice. Capote the man draws attention less for being attractive or charismatic than for being peculiar and appearing utterly indifferent to his effect on people. "Capote" the film, being so focused on its title character, has much the same appeal.

As the film opens, Capote has grand plans for his next work, a "nonfiction novel" , though the right story to use as a basis eludes him. He finds inspiration in the story of a gruesome crime in Kansas, with an entire family killed by two intruders. He travels there with childhood friend Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), who serves as a buffer between small-town people and the thoroughly citified Capote, gathering information wherever he can, whether it be from Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper), the crime's lead investigator, or Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.), one of the accused. He finds Smith's personal history quite similar to his own, and helps to fund the killers' appeals - though his motives are more complicated than sympathy for someone with a similar background.

From minute one, this movie was going to float or sink on Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance, so it's a good thing he makes it float. A certain amount of his success will come from mimicry, both in terms of how wardrobe and make-up nudges his appearance in Capote's direction and how Hoffman replicates the high, nasal voice. Those are somewhat mechanical tasks, of course, just the most obviously visible materials Hoffman uses to construct his character; in truth, the movie would perhaps be just as strong without them (though their absence would irritate sticklers for accuracy) because the characterization that the actor brings is what winds up defining Capote for us.

The best word to describe Capote here is egocentric. That's not the same as egotistic; Capote doesn't generally seem to think he's better or necessarily more important than everyone else. He is simply unable to think of another person's concerns, and craves being the center of attention. He doesn't mean to be selfish or hurtful, but he doesn't give it much thought, either before or after he does it. He's fey almost to the point being ridiculous, but he's not a limp-wristed caricature - his speech is reedy and highfalutin', and the way he gestures with his hands implies delicacy, but his body language is strong; when we learn that he described a nasty childhood, we believe it in part because his motions show strength and confidence. There's more to this fellow than meets the eye, at times, although at times there's also less.

The supporting cast does their job of grounding this peculiar figure in the real world, although none ever comes close to taking Hoffman's spotlight. Chris Cooper perhaps comes the closest as Dewey, in part because he serves as Capote's counterbalance - he's a man of simple virtue and straightforward morality, who is undeniably intelligent but doesn't find the crime or criminals fascinating in the same way Capote does. Catherine Keener's Nelle serves as a bridge between them, able to translate between Capote's intellectualism and the locals' small-town simplicity. Keener allows her to nearly disappear at times, she's so dedicated to smoothing the way for her obviously brilliant friend, and as a result little twitches of the mouth that show her disappointment or exasperation toward the end speak loudly. Bruce Greenwood is less self-effacing as Jack Dunphy, Truman's housemate. And Clifton Collins is disarmingly warm as the killer who winds up fascinating Capote so.

Screenwriter Dan Futterman hints at a sort of love triangle between Capote, Dunphy, and Smith, though as in the time period in which the movie is set, homosexuality is never openly mentioned. It's not like any sort of chemistry between Capote and Smith can actually be acted upon, of course - Smith's a convicted killer on death row - but the tensions are there nonetheless. Director Bennett Miller avoids calling attention to himself. This is a film primarily composed of conversations, and Bennet generally avoids over-cutting or moving the camera to add extra motion to the picture.

The time when Truman Capote was writing In Cold Blood is an interesting and relatively unique time to set a movie. Tales of an author creating a signature work aren't uncommon, but when the focus is on the author, it's usually a fictional work he's creating, even if inspired by real people. Other times, the writer is primarily a device to connect the various parts of the real subject. Here, though, the process is squarely on the writer, who must deal with the fundamental challenges of documenting an event that still stings like a raw nerve to the people involved along with his own personal reaction.

And that unique perspective would make "Capote" well worth seeing, even if Hoffman was something less than outstanding.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12886&reviewer=371
originally posted: 12/08/05 23:38:05
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell good film imho 4 stars
10/28/13 ClemenceDane I remember Capote, too, from television appearances & PSH didn't capture him at ALL! 2 stars
9/13/12 Alex Good review man 4 stars
3/14/10 Jeff Wilder The film id merely good but Hoffman 4 stars
2/10/10 Kenny the killings were in Kansas not Kentucky. fyi. 3 stars
4/13/09 Shaw C. PSH is a good actor but did not shine in this one. Award should go to Collins Jr 3 stars
3/30/09 Flounder A supremely introspective and probing character study the likes of which left me in awe 5 stars
11/21/08 Shaun Wallner Interesting Movie! 4 stars
12/10/07 R.W.Welch Not exactly gripping but Hoffman is dead on in title role. C+ 3 stars
10/24/07 Ivana Mann Emotionally blunted,boring.If you enjoy watching linoleum slowly curl,you'll like this. 2 stars
10/06/06 MP Bartley Austere character study. Brilliant performances across the board. 4 stars
9/12/06 Edward Connell Place yourself in Capote`s place and become fascinated and intrigued. 3 stars
9/11/06 Michael Coovert Never understood the hoopla; movie did not live up to the true story of Capote. 3 stars
8/16/06 Mary Beth flat, not engrossing 2 stars
7/17/06 CTT Mesmerizing and harrowing 5 stars
6/18/06 millersxing A chilling drama. It requires intense effort and energy to watch in one sitting. 4 stars
6/02/06 Ken Kaplan Awesome is the word. One of the most incisive reviews I've seen. One of the best pictures v 5 stars
5/23/06 Indrid Cold Certainly well made, but far too dreary and languid to be enjoyable. 3 stars
5/18/06 Annie G Gripping story, incredible acting, overall a fabulous movie. 5 stars
4/10/06 Phil M. Aficionado Brilliant in all respects:Concept, casting/acting,script, mood, pace, cinematograpy, focus. 5 stars
4/08/06 Simon 'chilling' is the word I can't get out of my head. a prying, no-nonsensely done film. 5 stars
3/12/06 Roderick Cromar I wouldn't let him marry my daughter. 4 stars
3/07/06 Piz Wow what a surprise. A great biopic worthy of best pic. 5 stars
3/06/06 Monday Morning Totally enlightening, revealing & surprising biopic, brilliantly done. 5 stars
3/03/06 Green Gremlin The best biopic in years. Philip Seymour Hoffman desrves the Oscar !!! 5 stars
2/18/06 john bale Hoffman IS Capote in this powerful film and memorable performance. 5 stars
11/29/05 jcjs awesome, Phillip S. Hoffman, wow..a delight to watch acting and story supreme 5 stars
11/24/05 Desperado If PSH does not get an Oscar, somethings wrong terrific yet chilling movie, Incredible 5 stars
11/08/05 Suzz exquisite acting; very, very fine film 5 stars
9/28/05 E. Northam Brilliant casting; superlative performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman 5 stars
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  30-Sep-2005 (R)
  DVD: 21-Mar-2006

  24-Feb-2006 (15)


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