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by Peter Sobczynski

"A great performance in the service of a merely adequate film"
4 stars

In a way, “Capote” reminds me a little bit of last year’s “Ray”–both films are biopics featuring central performances so strong and sure that they pretty much overcome the otherwise flawed material. In this case, Philip Seymour Hoffman (probably best known for his work in the films of Paul Thomas Anderson and for playing Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous”) delivers a turn as infamous author Truman Capote that goes far beyond mere imitation–he essentially becomes Capote and there is not a single moment in the film in which he is less than utterly convincing as a man whose motivation and behavior is always complex and unfathomable, even to himself at times.

Instead of serving as a full biography, “Capote” focuses on the years that would produce both his greatest literary achievement and the essential downfall of his career–the investigation of the brutal murders of a Kansas farm family that would inspire the landmark true-crime book “In Cold Blood.” At first, when Capote learns of the crime, he has no feelings about other than the fact that it could make for an interesting article for the New Yorker. With friend and fellow author Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) serving as his guide, Capote swoops down on the town and begins to delve into the crime and the way that it has affected the community. At first, most are suspicious and put off by the flamboyant newcomer, especially lead investigator Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper), but he eventually begins to win them over.

Time passes and finally two men–Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.)and Dick Hickock (Mark Pelligrino)–are arrested for the crime. Capote interviews Smith and finds him to be such a compelling subject that it compels him to expand his story into a full-length book and he does everything that he can, including aiding in Smith’s defense, in order to get his subject to give the confession that will allow him to complete his book. At the same time, Smith is exploiting Capote as well, using the writer’s obvious fascination with him in an effort to somehow save his neck from the executioner’s noose. Eventually, Capote’s interest in Smith and his case, which he has been painting in a sympathetic light (much to the chagrin of the townspeople), is outweighed by his desire to finally complete his long-gestating book. His efforts to bring about that conclusion are finally successful but finish off something within him in the process–he would never again finish another large-scale project after the publication of “In Cold Blood” and would live out his days as a mere celebrity instead of as a celebrated writer.

The performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as Capote is an astonishing work. Considering how flamboyant the real-life Capote was, it would have been easy for any actor portraying him to simply play up to the tics and the fey mannerisms. Instead, Hoffman plunges much deeper into the role and transforms what could have been a caricature into one of the most fully fleshed-out performances you will see this year. Near the end, there is a scene in which he cooly observes the executions of Smith and Hickcok, an event that he helped orchestrate by withholding assistance once it no longer suited his needs, and Hoffman manages to convey the entire spectrum of emotions that Capote is going through without saying a word or even changing his expression. It is a quiet and reflective moment that, in its unshowy way, defines what great acting is all about.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film never quite gets as deep into the material as Hoffman has. Specifically, the mutually exploitative relationship between Capote and Smith, the element that should have been the heart of the film, comes off as a little vague in Dan Futterman’s screenplay. There are some nice individual scenes and the performances by Catherine Keener (as Capote’s friend and guide Harper Lee) and Chris Cooper (as the local lead investigator) are also quite strong. However, the film, directed by Bennett Miller, never really came together for me in a way that seemed to be particularly satisfying. It isn’t bad by any means–it just doesn’t pack the bunch that it should in the end.

By sheer coincidence, “Capote” comes out the same week as “North Country” and “Good Night, and Good Luck,” two other highly touted biopics with strong and justly acclaimed lead performances. The problem with the former is that it doesn’t have anything else going for it but the Charlize Theron performance and the joy of the latter is that it is just as impressive and thoughtful as David Strathairn’s work. “Capote” falls somewhere in the middle–there are good things in it beyond the lead performance but not enough to make the film the unforgettable experience that it should have been. However, this is Hoffman’s show all the way and he single-handedly transform what could have been just another true-life story into something that is still worth watching..

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12886&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/20/05 23:52:49
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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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