Film review: Capote

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Philip Seymour Hoffman—what a bit of acting he does in this movie. Truman Capote was a man of memorable affectations, and an actor could have easily fallen into parody in portraying him, but Hoffman walks the finest of lines like an acrobat, bringing complexity and reality to his performance. Befitting a story that lies deep in life’s complex grey areas, he shows us a man that cannot be summed up in a sentence, even one as expressive as the man himself could write.

Capote focuses on his research for his last finished novel, the stunning In Cold Blood. If you haven’t got around to reading it, do so now; it’s one of the seminal books of the 20th century. Were the events of this time responsible for Capote never finishing another novel, descending into alcoholism and eventually to an early death at 60? We’ll never know, but the film makes a strong case for it. Like In Cold Blood, it also concentrates on the killers in the case of the murder of a family in Halcomb, Kansas in 1959; the murdered people have no voice. But the film is about Capote after all. It’s about his relationship with Perry Smith, a sensitive man who Capote developed a connection. And it’s about the Faustian path Capote found himself on when finishing his greatest work.

Capote doesn’t lead us by the hand towards pat solutions. It moves slowly and steadily through the events, yet without ever dragging or losing its way. It looks beautiful, grey and cold and desaturated; even the light on the Costa Brava, where Capote escapes with Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood), seems overcast and heavy. Catherine Keener puts in a quiet but strong performance as Capote’s friend Harper Lee. Bennett Miller’s direction is confident and quietly stylish. Perhaps Clifton Collins Jr. as Perry Smith is not quite as good, but then there’s a vacancy about the character which seems strangely appropriate.

I was mesmerised by the film from start to finish. Four and a half wide grey skies.

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