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Overall Rating
4.09

Awesome: 37.86%
Worth A Look41.75%
Just Average: 11.65%
Pretty Crappy: 8.74%
Sucks: 0%

12 reviews, 31 user ratings


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Capote
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by Brad Wilber

"'It's the Truman Show...and Hoffman rules.'"
5 stars

The director-screenwriter team behind CAPOTE is Bennett Miller and Dan Futterman (as an actor, Futterman was Vincent Gray on TV’s “Judging Amy” as well as Val in THE BIRDCAGE). The pair were high-school classmates in the 1980s, and though I don’t have any more information on their working relationship, CAPOTE is such a surefooted effort that it’s easy to imagine the two collaborated well given a long history together. Biopics have been coming thick and fast in Hollywood lately, and this one quite simply vaults to the top of the heap.

I especially admired CAPOTE’s assiduous focus. The filmmakers have decided that we will learn all we need to learn about the writer Truman Capote, man of rampant gifts and rampant ego, by examining the years 1959 to 1965—from the commission of the Clutter farm murders in Holcomb, Kansas, to the hangings of the killers. (Because Capote began researching the killings almost from the moment they hit the papers, this time frame is also essentially the gestation period of “In Cold Blood,” his genre-bending book about the case.) That Futterman and Miller chose this period and still produced a narrative so thoroughly about Truman’s motives (lesser tandems might have gotten sidetracked by the lurid nature of the case itself) underscores their discipline with the material. A few well-chosen scenes give sufficient weight and presence to an explosion of violence, a community in shock, and perpetrators pondering their own fate. But what saturates the film is Truman’s narcissistic certainty that these events are a windfall for his own career.

The film doesn’t rely on exculpatory flashbacks into childhood (RAY? WALK THE LINE?). Dialogue grants enough glimpses into the past for us to sense that Truman’s early years were highly non-traditional and even traumatic enough for him to prevaricate about it. Capote’s sexual orientation, and his status as top dog among the gay wags of his generation, might recall Oscar Wilde, but we don’t tour carnal landmarks here the way we do in Brian Gilbert’s WILDE. In WILDE there is perhaps more need for it—in CAPOTE we are introduced to an openly gay character, but the movie makes the case that during this span most of his homoerotic longing is being squandered on a somewhat unattainable object—Perry Smith, one of the two convicted murderers about whom Truman is writing.

No parade of current celebs playing bygone celebs, either (CHAPLIN, THE AVIATOR, etc.), even though Capote’s A-list orbit would seem to open the door for that. The encircled beneficiaries of Truman’s anecdotes are left anonymous, but it’s important to see him holding court often, and we do. There are tales of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, of BEAT THE DEVIL with John Huston and Humphrey Bogart (for which Capote was the screenwriter), and of having to chide Marilyn Monroe for hanging her Matisses upside-down. There is also a heart-stopping pause and a devastating one-liner after an audience member compliments Capote on the pathos of his public reading from a draft of “In Cold Blood”; in Truman’s favorite crowd, hilarity trumps heart.

To provide contrast to the scenes in which Capote is being worshiped as chief raconteur, the film expertly uses the more jaundiced perspectives of two fellow writers—Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) and Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood). Nelle accompanies Truman on his first research trip to Holcomb (before the Clutters are even buried), and right from the outset, in a terrific scene involving a suspiciously effusive porter on their train, we recognize her as someone who knows Truman’s appetite for the limelight all too well. Nelle even understands that on this trip she is being used as an instrument of entry; deep in the heartland, Truman’s fey aura is greeted with wariness, but her unadorned, plainspoken first impression can get people to open up. Dunphy, Truman’s long-term lover, also can see threads of manipulation in everything Capote does, especially in his friendship with Perry Smith.

Much of Capote’s initial information about the circumstances of the Clutter tragedy comes from primary investigator Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper at his implacable best). As with all of the supporting roles here, the brushstrokes are minimal but judicious, so that the actor gets enough to work with but the character functions mainly to illuminate the protagonist. Capote freely admits he cares little whether the case reaches just resolution—he wants The Story, and the suspects in custody, Mssrs. Hickok and Smith, guilty or not, offer literary possibilities he wants to pursue (“When I think of how good my book is going to be, I can’t breathe.”) Truman’s agenda, to be sure, puts him at odds with Dewey, and their uneasy interaction is satisfying.

Once Capote gets the chance to meet Hickok and Smith, he gravitates toward the latter—the more verbal fellow and the more vulnerable temperament. Oscar buzz surrounding Clifton Collins Jr. as Perry has kind of flatlined, depending on where you look on the Web—regardless, it’s a breakout performance. Again, like other characters, Perry Smith serves to reflect Capote more than to reveal himself, so at times there may seem something a bit diluted about the role. That may be deliberate, however—to highlight his naïveté, his assimilation of events slow to take shape. Smith’s eyes show a war going on inside between defeat and hope. He latches onto Capote as his only viable advocate without any hardened-criminal wiliness that would tell him to work his looks and his soulfulness to further infatuate the writer. Capote claims that he has not fallen in love with Smith—only felt a certain rapport based on commonalities in their backgrounds. But the friendship surely is rife with impurities on Truman’s part, even if they aren’t sexual.

In the last half hour of the film, the darkest of Capote’s true colors emerge. By this time, Nelle has hit celebrity in her own right with the publication of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the release of its film adaptation. At the premiere party, Capote sulks at the bar—“I don’t see what all the fuss is about.” Nelle absorbs this with typical wry equanimity. It reminded me of seeing the famous Gore Vidal quote: “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.” Sheesh—what is it with writers? Anyway, Keener does great work; she has made her name playing women with very contemporary quirk, but she’s not at all out of place in a period piece. Truman also bares his teeth to Smith in a long confrontation about the book title (can you blame Perry for feeling a little demonized by it?), so that when Smith reaches the end of the line and shrugs his forgiveness, we’re not quite sure how much disillusionment is behind the gesture. Is he telling Capote “Thanks for trying,” or “Thanks for nothing”? Truman is in distress at the end, but whatever the wave of emotion is, it’s not really the throes of epiphany. The film's epilogue-text suggests that self-reproach becomes a deeply buried current that sluices through Capote’s life from then on, as he’s plagued by alcohol abuse and infertile writing.

Have I gotten this far in the review without even mentioning that Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Capote? It’s only because extravagant praise for his portrayal has become something of a given. He’s been good since SCENT OF A WOMAN and NOBODY’S FOOL. But it’s truly a gift to have Hoffman at the center of these proceedings—and rarely, if ever, off-screen. He conjures the reedy voice, and his Capote often looks like he is sniffing the air for a waft of his own genius. He never fails to intrigue with the details of his performance, and that’s vital when the script is crisp but is relatively devoid of obvious crescendos. Verbal exchanges that would be inert in the hands of another actor fascinate us here because Hoffman is in charge.

One wonders what effect this version’s high caliber will have on the viewership for 2006’s INFAMOUS aka EVERY WORD IS TRUE. This is another Capote film zeroing in on the same events, with—apparently—Toby Jones as Truman, Sandra Bullock as Nelle, Daniel Craig as Perry, and Jeff Daniels as Alvin Dewey. The diva quotient might be higher, with Sigourney Weaver, Hope Davis, and Isabella Rossellini in the roles of various socialites. May the second film also be great—but catch this one while it still might be lingering in theatres. If Philip Seymour Hoffman walks off with the Oscar and you have to wait till the DVD, you’ll kick yourself.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12886&reviewer=395
originally posted: 12/05/05 22:26:07
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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
5/28/10 PAUL SHORTT ENGROSSING, ABSORBING DRAMA WITH A BRILLIANT STAR PERFORMANCE 5 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
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  30-Sep-2005 (R)
  DVD: 21-Mar-2006

UK
  24-Feb-2006 (15)

Australia
  23-Feb-2006




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