capote (2005)

"In this world, there are more tears shed over prayers answered than prayers unanswered". That is the phrase that has been running through my head for the last two days since I saw Phillip Seymour Hoffman's new film, Capote. And it really is Seymour Hoffman to whom the film belongs. Though it was helmed by first time director Bennett Miller, Hoffman's performance is what holds the film together and makes it a memorable experience, even when the film itself is starting to feel uneven. It is the moment in which those words appear on the screen that the movie falls into place and the meandering proceedings are given a chilling poignance. It is in large part due to those simple words that this film has earned a definite spot as one of the best films of the year.

I'll speak a bit on the film itself, but I really don't have an awful lot to talk about. Until the aforementioned sentence makes its way to the screen, the film is a straightforward tale of Truman Capote's downward slide as he writes his most acclaimed novel. The novel is titled In Cold Blood, and it chronicles Capote's time spent with a convicted murderer. The film is spectacular for its portrayal of the way a small, seemingly unimportant choice can profoundly impact one's life. The incidents that change your life are never the obvious ones, you don't wake up one morning and say "today my life is going to be changed", it just sort of happens. Usually you don't even realize it until months or even years later. The same happens to Truman Capote when investigating a murder for an article turns into writing a novel, which then turns into a life-altering ordeal. All of this in intercut with Truman's trendy 60's cocktail parties and his friendship to writer Harper Lee. Capote is wonderfully realized by Seymour Hoffman as a slightly eccentric, strangely impulsive man with a tendency to become wrapped up in himself to the pint of obsession. Playing a character that complex requires a performance with nuance and understanding; qualities that Seymour Hoffman exudes in this film. Simply watching him become the performance steals the show away from the film and away from the storyline. As far as acting goes, it is perfection; but as far as the film goes, the performance becomes almost overpowering. This is not a very big complaint however, in fact, it's not much of a complaint at all. Hoffman makes the film fascinating to watch. I found it quite similar to Jaime Foxx as Ray Charles in last year's film Ray. However, Seymour Hoffman's performance is far greater than Foxx's, and as a film, Capote is vastly superior to Ray (which I didn't really think was very good). But anyway, the key to the two performances were the glasses. something about them allows the actor to really disappear, leaving only the character on screen. Thankfully he only removes them in one quick scene, because when he did, I was completely taken out of the film. Capote spends most of the film having discussions with the murderer, Perry Smith, and intimately getting to know him. I did not care for many of these scenes and did not really feel that there was any sort of a connection forming between the two until one of the film's final scenes. However, this was most likely intentional. In fact, the most telling scenes of Capote's condition are not the ones involving Perry at all, but his scenes with Harper Lee. The film takes place during the time when she published To Kill a Mockingbird. She is delighted with the success and wants to share her moment with Truman, but his detachment is wonderfully showcased by his inability to remember even the name of Lee's book. By the conclusion we are posed the question that makes up the bulk of the film; how much are you willing to lose to accomplish something? When is the cost of success too great?

Cue the standard "be careful what you wish for" moral, right? wrong. We, the audience, know this is the moral without the film even saying it. And so, it tastefully exits, leaving us with that final phrase to ponder. Never have a few simple words had such an impact. If the rest of the film had had the kind of sensibility that the last few minutes had, it would have been a perfect film. But, for the most part, it sort of mulls around waiting to get to the good part. It knows it has to earn its ending, but it doesn't delight in doing so. Its technical aspects are quite well done. Some very wide shots, usually involving outside the house where the murder took place, make up the high points of the cinematography. Other than that, there's not much to remark on. The acting, as I've said, is the very best part of Capote, and it's the part that will serve the film well at the Oscars in a few months. I can see the win for Phillip Seymour Hoffman from a mile away, and I wouldn't be surprised if Catherine Keener gets a nomination for her portrayal of Harper Lee. The only thing about the cast that annoys me is the irritating inclusion of Chris Cooper. I have to be honest, I find him to be one of the most annoying actors working in movies today. Not quite as annoying as guys like Dennis Quaid or Josh Lucas or even Hugh Grant, but he's up there. He also seems to be in every movie I see lately. This month alone he plays roles in Capote, Jarhead, and the upcoming Syriana. I can't place my finger on what about him annoys me, but I cringe when he comes on screen. Maybe it's the fact that he's constantly playing a minor variation of the same character. His presence didn't help the Bourne movies either. However, I digress. Getting back to Capote, Bennett Miller does a fine job of directing his first feature film. I must say, for a debut, I am quite impressed. I am definitely looking forward to seeing what he comes up with in the future, it's sure to be good stuff. I'm gonna keep this review pretty short; all in all, this is a great film. 

Truman Capote is thought to be one of the best writers of 20th century, and thankfully he has a film that does him justice. It's undoubtedly one of the best of the year, but I wish I had been moved by it a bit more. I was very torn on how to rate this one. Part of me thinks it deserves a 9, mostly for the acting, but I'm going to give it an 8 because I think it could have been improved in many places. This was a film that was all about emotionally engaging the audience, and I can't say I felt quite engaged throughout the movie. When it works, however, it works beautifully.