Reviewed By Chris Wilson
Posted 10/15/05 19:29:13

"An obvious choice for fans of Capote and true crime."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Capote, a new biopic about Truman Capote, is a complex film about a complex and contradictory man in literary history. Many people will find Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Truman Capote to be completely convincing. I found it to be distracting – though to be fair, I probably would have found the real life Capote’s flamboyance distracting. But not so distracting that I couldn’t appreciate the interesting story underneath.

The film concentrates on the approximately six years Capote spent researching the Kentucky murder of a family of four that would become his book, In Cold Blood. While a significant amount of time is spent on Capote’s relationship with convicted murderer Perry Smith, this doesn’t become the entire focus of the film. The heart of the movie is Capote’s obsession with getting the entire story, while not shying away from his uncanny ability to manipulate sources. The complicated (and often contradictory) ways this is shown in Hoffman’s Capote is nothing short of fascinating.

While Capote is the center of attention (by his own nature), secondary characters are given plenty of room to move. Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.), Local sheriff Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) and author Harper Lee (a very natural Katherine Keener), Capote’s ‘BFF’ according to a scholarly friend of mine, all are able to give us well rounded characters.

Sounds good so far, right? Except I have a problem with biopics. They attempt to tell a real person’s story but try to fit it inside the mold of a Hollywood formula. In doing this, details are changed for dramatic reasons and the audience is normally forced to take what they’re told at face value. Most distracting to me is the fact that a famous actor always plays the title role. With nearly every film about a real public figure, praise is heaped on this actor who truly inhabits the role. But every time all I can see is a caricature of a person.

Capote plays into these shortcomings, but less so than most films of the genre. Because the story concentrates less on Capote’s personal life and more on his professional (though still oddly personal) attempt to tell the complete story of a harrowing murder, it doesn’t feel as ‘same old’ as it might have. I have yet to find serious factual errors, though I’m sure there have been changes made for the purpose of dramatics. And while I still saw a caricature, it was a much more convincing one than usual. I’m sure this is mostly due to the fact that I’ve only heard the real life Capote’s voice on one or two occasions. He is not nearly as recognizable a figure today as Muhammad Ali or Ray Charles.

Those of you out there who are Truman Capote devotees or diehard fans of true crime stories will find plenty to love in Capote. However, if you’re like me and have some reservations with seeing famous stories told by Hollywood, you might want to sit this one out. Like its famous subject, the film’s genre definitely has a handle on manipulation.

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