It is really hard to see a universally adored movie so late in its run and maintain any perspective, even without reading any reviews. I walked in there already biased toward loving Philip Seymour Hoffman, already prepped to experience the performance of a lifetime. That said, I could not help but be completely sucked in by Hoffman’s performance in much the same way that I was watching Paul Giamatti become Harvey Pekar in American Splendor. With little basis of knowing what the real Truman Capote was like besides his embarrassing cameo in Murder By Death, I still felt that I had lived inside his skin for 114 minutes. Truman’s voice and mannerisms force you to jump to conclusions about what kind of man he is, and sometimes he really is that man.
He seems a vain, flamboyant center of attention who exudes a false humility that endears you to him. Sometimes he is someone very different, very selfish, very cold, very calculating, very unaware of how his actions are rippling over the people around him. Then he’s loving, then he’s frightened, then he’s dismissive. Capote was a human being, with complex emotions like we all have all the time (ambivalence, masked disdain, whatever happens inside our minds) but he wore these feelings on his sleeve even as he thought he was hiding them. Hoffman is not afraid to plunge in and be completely trivial and completely dangerous in one breath. It truly is a delectable performance. Hoffman is an actor who made a depressed huffer interesting and sympathetic in Love Liza, who made a fat pervy boom operator in Boogie Nights be a guy you could still talk to.
Capote’s novel, In Cold Blood, written about the experiences of the small town in which a terrible quadruple murder had taken place, was the defining book of his career, and the last completed one. Characters in the film describe his writing as terrifying, when the original purpose of the book was to humanize the criminals and the crime. (Think Dead Man Walking.) Not having read In Cold Blood, I wonder whether Capote turned on his subjects in his writing as he did in life, after becoming so infatuated with one of the killers. To think of the world that have to collide to put a confidante of Marilyn Monroe in the same sphere as an erstwhile petty criminal is interesting, but it is more interesting to watch Hoffman display the range of responses that Capote have to his obsession. He does not respond as he should; when he should be compassionate, he is selfish. When he should be judgemental, he is seductive. It is fascinating to watch, but that is no surprise.
I am certain that most other reviews have neglected to mention Catherine Keener’s restrained and gentle turn as Capote’s friend Harper Lee (when she was onscreen I was always thinking about how these kids didn’t read To Kill A Mockingbird in school and I wondered what they read instead) or Chris Cooper’s reliable curmudgeonly performance. They are always good actors and never slack, but (no doubt as with the real Capote) everyone behind our protagonist fades away as simply…less. If you haven’t seen it, somehow, by now, check it out.
MPAA Rating R-violent images, brief strong language
Release date 9/30/05
Time in minutes 114
Director Bennett Miller
Studio United Artists/Sony Pictures Classics