Capote

Film Review by Jeffrey Winters

So many films evaporate after you see them. “Capote” is a film that provokes thought and discussion. “Capote” is directed by first time fiction film director Bennett Miller on a low budget of seven million dollars. It is not a studio film.

From the opening scene we watch Philip Seymour Hoffman create an incredible and mesmerizing performance which should win him an academy award. He captures the tics, voice fluctuations, tilt of the head, vulnerable and ruthless side of famed author Truman Capote. Even if someone is not familiar with the late Capote’s persona and gay life style, the performance has such subtle power, it is difficult to daydream and not focus on the film. Many good actors need another actor to play off of in order for them to showcase a good performance. In “Capote” there are many scenes where Hoffman is on the phone or typing alone. He doesn’t need another person to demonstrate what is ticking inside. And when he does relate with other characters, the portrait of the man and writer takes on a new dimension. Often a sad depiction as Capote is always with a drink.

Unlike most American films, “Capote” is made as a character study. It doesn’t have the fast pacing of a plot driven film. Character driven films are a risk for a big U.S. studio because they traditionally don’t make money. Many of the academy award films this year are small and personal. They bypassed the big studio for the green light to get made.

Early on in this film, Truman Capote (Hoffman) is reading the New York Times and finds an article in the back about a brutal killing of four family members in Kansas. His intuition lights up as he senses a great story for The New Yorker Magazine.

Capote takes a train with his childhood friend Harper Lee (played by Catherine Keener who is up for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar). They go to Holcomb, Kansas. At first he interviews Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper), the morose Kansas Bureau of Investigation Agent. Next, Capote views the dead bodies and later bribes the warden to let him visit the two killers. Capote returns to New York and tells a friend, “When I think how good it could be, I can hardly breathe.” He is referring to a new type of book at the time, a non-fiction account of a brutal murder. His editor William Shawn (Bob Balaban) gives him unlimited funds and PR for the upcoming best seller “In Cold Blood,” and prints the entire book first in The New Yorker Magazine.

Most important is the relationship Capote forms with one of the killers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.). Capote senses a profound similarity in the way they were both abandoned by their mothers and kicked around by the family. As a result Capote helps Perry while exploiting him for his inner secrets to the murder. Capote has a sweet style of ruthlessness. He wants more brutal detail for the book. Perry senses this and uses Capote at the same time. It is a symbiotic and psychological connection that later has a profoundly negative impact on Capote

“Capote” is up for five academy awards. I think Philip Seymour Hoffman will win for Best Actor. His performance as Capote is fantastic.