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Capote

February 5, 2014

Capote (2005)
Director: Bennett Miller
Actors: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Clifton Collins Jr, Catherine Keener

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Synopsis: Celebrated New York writer, Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman), takes interest in a report about a grisly set of murders in Kansas in 1959. Working his way in with one of the killers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr), Capote develops gripping material for a non-fiction work titled “In Cold Blood”, though his ‘friendship’ with Smith carries a strong ethical dilemma…

Review: I know it’s become de rigueur to pass comment on the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman in recent days, so I thought the best tribute I could offer was to reacquaint myself with some of the prodigious body of work he left us. Ironically, Capote – the film where he actually snagged an Oscar – was one of my few “needs” in the Hoffman back catalogue, so became my first, obvious port of call.

Interestingly, a little like the film itself, though Hoffman’s performance is well-intentioned and certainly far from caricature, it’s a little one-note and academic. Hoffman’s persona has always seemed more preferable when providing flashes of inspiration in the ragged fringes of the movies he populates. He was terrifically moving and poignant in Paul Thomas Anderson’s opus Magnolia; his wicked cameos were comfortably the best thing in Anthony Minghella’s otherwise weighty and dull literary works The Talented Mr Ripley and Cold Mountain; and he was utterly compelling and humorous in Spike Lee’s curio 25th Hour.

Here, Hoffman turns in a very actorly performance. Capote’s lisp is rigorously applied with Hoffman hugging his upper palate with his tongue at all times to affect the speech effect, and the fey extension of Capote’s little fingers and his precise prodding of his glasses all enable Hoffman to branch out on the film’s thesis of Capote as a narcissistic literary man, almost voyeuristically in thrall to the grand drama of life parading around him.

Sadly, the film transmits as more than a little conceited. And by “conceited”, I don’t mean in its colloquial connotation as something unattractively pretentious, just more how the film burdensomely lugs around its single ‘grand’ thematic idea (namely how a writer is in lure to, but ultimately exploits and absolves themselves from, their real-life inspiration or subject matter). Everything in the movie is sombrely subordinate to this conceit, from the clinical visuals, to the performances and the narrative itself – all leaving it feeling more than a little shallow and unrevelatory. (February 2014)

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