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Monday, February 20, 2006

Capote (2005)

Like its titular character, "Capote" is small but extremely compelling to watch. The film recounts the brutal murder of a family in rural Kansas, the men who went on trial and the writer, Truman Capote, who became obsessed with the case. At first Capote simply wants to write a story for the New Yorker about the small town's reaction to the killings. As he gets to know the people in the town and the killers themselves, however, he decides to write a book. The book, which he titles "In Cold Blood," is anticipated as the greatest nonfiction book of the decade. He uses the murderers, particulary Perry Smith, for inside information, promising to help them get an appeal. Eventually, however, Capote must choose between the people in his book and the book itself. In his quest to eloquently convey the human condition, Capote loses his own humanity.
Before he went on trial for murdering his wife, Robert Blake starred as Perry Smith in the 1967 version of In Cold Blood. That film was pretty much a masterpiece in its own small way; "Capote" wisely avoids inevitable comparisons by being very different in both style and theme. "Capote" is a good looking film (although there's only so much a cinematographer can do with Kansas). The strength of the film lies in its performances. Catherine Keener is great as fellow writer Harper Lee, and Bruce Greenwood is dependable as always in his turn as Capote's partner Jack. The real phenomenon here is Hoffman, whose portrayal of Capote is positively uncanny. He could have easily presented Capote as a caricature--Capote himself often came off as a caricature. Instead, however, he gives us a sensitive, deeply troubled artist with a whole wagon train of baggage. Yet his performance never comes across as overdone or melodramatic. I'm rooting for him on Oscar night.

Amount of money I'd pay to see this movie: $6

Directed by Bennett Miller
Written by Dan Futterman (screenplay) Gerald Clarke (book)
Rated R for some violent images and brief strong language.
Runtime: 98 min / Canada:110 min (Toronto International Film Festival)


Blogger Tish said...

I like your characterization of "Capote" as small and compelling. I agree, Hoffman really is "uncanny" and the movie draws you in, if only to continue watching the curious collection of mannerisms and tics that comprise Truman Capote.

However, I personally didn't find it compelling. Maybe that is because in my opinion, "in his quest to eloquently convey the human condition," the highest aim of high-art, Capote does not in fact "lose his own humanity." I would argue that the movie's greatest failing is that Capote, as portrayed, never has any humanity to begin with.

I feel that from the outset Capote is a carciature. Surprisingly, he isn't a caricature of a deeply screwed up, short, gay man compensating for his insecurities with a giant intellectual penis. I think Hoffman portrays the surface of Capote in a manner that enthralls and convinces. But he is the caricature of a journalist and an intellectual snob. I never felt, through the entrie movie, that Capote was ever truly "sensitive." His motives for everything he did seemed singular -he wanted his Great American Novel and he prolonged the lives of his subjects, ignored his lover and lied to his friends until he got his last chapter and then drop[ed the floor out from under all of them and let them hang.

Maybe my issue is that I think Capote's character and other characters in the film, show remarkably little change in spite of the magnitude of what they are involved in. Harper Lee bears the hypocrisy of what Truman is doing with a mildly disassproving insousiance. Jack is a classically hunky doormat. The killers never show the side of themselves that murdered an entire family "in cold blood". Instead they seem to come off as abused and at times, infantile by-products of a mean, nasty world.

I would liked to have seen the tension between this inhuman, monster-journalist and Harper Lee who is his best friend. I would liked to have seen the conflict between the self-centered workaholic and his life-partner. Or maybe even between two hardened killers from rural America and the prissy, intellectual jerk that enters their lives. All of these are glanced over and ignored in favor of a soft-serve, sob-story where everyone instantly forgives everyone else for massive wrongdoings at the drop of a hat.

In my opinion, Capote lacks motion and a meaningful journey which may be on some meta-level a commentary on the human condition but is, nonetheless, kind of boring.

9:06 AM  

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