Written by Dan Futterman; directed by Bennett Miller
Bennett Miller‘s Capote may well be the most assured sophomore film since American Graffiti. Then again, I’ve done absolutely no research into this and I am sure I am missing several dozen amazing second efforts (there was a little film called Jaws that wasn’t so bad, really). Oh yeah. Good Night, And Good Luck, too…oops. No matter. My blog, my rules, my shoddy research. At any rate, Capote is unquestionably one of the best American films in recent years and come awards season it is sure to rack up the kudos.
Transporting viewers to the mid-1950’s while at the same time returning Truman Capote to life in the form of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the film tells the story of the six and a half years in which Truman Capote was researching and writing his ground-breaking true crime thriller, In Cold Blood. Before the 1966 publication of Capote’s in-depth page turner recounting the bizarre murders of the Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas in 1959, there was no “True Crime” genre. Fiction was the star and everything else was either a text book, a history or a hack journalistic exposé. After In Cold Blood, it all changed and a new, very popular, form of literature was born.
In the same way that a particular Mexican (Russian, Irish or Chinese) restaurant might strike you as completely authentic although you’ve never been to Mexico (Russia, Ireland or China), Hoffman simply is Capote. Even though my exposure to the physicality of the man is limited to his lone, yet brilliant dramatic role as the “demented lollypop” Lionel Twain (“Moose! Moose, you imbicile!”) in the Neil Simon-penned nugget of genius Murder By Death, I can’t help but know that Hoffman nails it. Early buzz has Hoffman, David Strathairn (Good Night, And Good Luck) and Joaquin Phoenix in line for best actor nods and interestingly enough, all are portraying real people. I haven’t seen Phoenix’s performance, but I am hoping to catch it next week as the opener of the 2005 AFI Fest.
Beyond Hoffman’s performance lie Futterman’s writing and Miller’s stewardship, both Oscar-caliber efforts, to be sure. Capote brings us into Truman’s life at the time, and Futterman’s screenplay along with Miller’s direction are crisp and lean with the pacing due the subject matter. Deliberate without once boring, the picture brings us both into Capote’s life at the time and also allows us to see how his actions and behavior is affecting those around him, especially Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), aka Harper Lee, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill A Mockingbird, Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Alvin Lewey Jr. (Chris Cooper), Capote’s editor at the New Yorker William Shawn (Bob Balaban) and of course the death row inmates Richard Hickock and Perry Smith (Mark Pellegrino & Clifton Collins Jr.) Also along for the ride is Capote’s long time partner, writer Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood). If this platformed release gets the attention it deserves, Keener should receive some awards notice, as should Collins Jr. as Smith, one of convicted killers in the story.
Lee portrayed Capote as Dill in her famous novel and in 1959, shortly before the publication of Mockingbird, moved with Truman to Holcomb to work as his research assistant. The relationships between Capote and Dunphy and Capote and Lee grow more and more strained as Truman gets deeper and deeper into the lives of the killers, especially Smith. On a vacation in Europe toward the end of the film Capote tells Lee of the connection he feels with Smith: “It’s as if he and I grew up in the same house and one day he walked out the back door and I walked out the front.”
It wouldn’t do either film an injustice to compare George Clooney‘s Good Night, And Good Luck with Capote in a few ways. While I know Bennett is gonna kill me for this, there are a few key similarities between the two films and not only that I love them both. The main common thread, really, is that both are relatively small segments of the main character’s lives and are not, strictly speaking, actually about the lead characters. Insomuch as Clooney’s film is about issues larger than Edward R. Murrow, Capote is also not a biopic of Truman Capote. It is a small part of Capote’s life, time wise, but a huge portion of his life professionally and personally, much like the effect that his confrontation with Joseph McCarthy had on Murrow.
While the two films are stylistically and thematically disparate, they are, each in their own way, challenging and audacious efforts in American cinema and tell important stories in the history of this country’s politics and literature. In this time of the year, which a relatively small and jaded portion of the world refers to as “Awards Season,” there will be many films released with blurbs announcing “Oscar-worthy” performances and such. Capote is one film which will carry blurbs to be heeded.
Photos, top to bottom: Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote, Truman entertains his society friends, Clifton Collins Jr. as Perry Smith, Director Bennett Miller
All photos ©2005 Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.
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Awards A Go-Go: The Silly Season Commenceth And I Get Sucked Into The Silliness from The Rabbi Report