Thursday, February 6, 2014


After the events of this weekend, I felt it was no better time to revisit Philip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar winning performance as Truman Capote in Bennett Miller's Capote.  It had been just over eight years since seeing the film in theaters, and I remembered very little.  I do remember being captivated by Hoffman's turn as the infamous American author, though underwhelmed by the film overall.  But a lot can happen to a person in eight years, and given the tragic and untimely death of Hoffman Sunday, there would be no better time to go back and watch Hoffman and, more importantly, watch the film surrounding him.

We meet Hoffman, as Truman Capote, one night in the typical bourgeoisie Manhattan dinner parties.  Capote is already famous, having placed himself in the limelight with his novel turned famous film, Breakfast at Tiffany's.  Hoffman absolutely becomes Capote from the get go, with the slick hair, the frail frame, and of course the fragile and effeminate voice.  It seemed impossible at the outset not to picture Hoffman in the role, but before long I almost forgot the reason for watching the film.

One morning in mid November, 1959, Truman catches an article in the newspaper about a murder in a small Kansas town, four people gunned down in their farmhouse.  Immediately, he decides his next book will be about the murders and the affect they had on this sleepy Midwestern villa.  He decides to visit the Kansas town with his friend and writing partner, Harper Lee (Katherine Keener), who was just about to hit the big time with her publication of To Kill a Mockingbird.  This Kansas town is unsettled, upset, a Norman Rockwell painting that is splitting at the seams.  The Sheriff in town, Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper), is too upset by the murders.  Capote, on the other hand, is fascinated by the case and its impact on the town.  But when the murder suspects are caught, it is clear Capote's direction changes.

Two drifters, Perry Smith and Roy Church, are arrested and ultimately convicted of the crime.  Capote takes an immediate liking to Smith, for what reason we aren't sure at first.  But throughout the second and third acts of the film, Capote develops a relationship that goes beyond simple understanding to sympathy and acceptance.  Truman realizes the story he has on his hands and begins the journey from article to novel.  The end result would become In Cold Blood, the best non-fiction novel ever written.  What is so amazing is the notion that Capote knew it would be from e first word he typed.  The relationship Truman forges with Perry Smith is the focal point of the picture.  As Perry nears his ultimate fate, he and Capote become closer and begin to understand one another on a much more complex level.  There is attraction, sure, but there is also a kindred spirit between the two.  "It's like we were raised in the same house," Capote tells Harper Lee, "only I went out the front door and he went out the back."

Overall, Capote is a film which requires great patience and attention.  It is detailed, only not riddled with detail on the screen.  The art direction and sense of time and place are wonderful, but this is an actor's film.  The nuance of the film lies within the words of Hoffman, who disappears behind Truman Capote.  I don't think Capote is any sort of revelatory picture from top to bottom, but I do understand the powerful performance Hoffman delivers.  His ability to shed the gruff and unkempt persona he carried with him in so many roles is fascinating.  The voice is something to marvel, a great feat of physical acting, but the power of his performance is the way he can use this cartoonish voice to his advantage.  Never once does it feel satirical, or false.  It always rings true, which is the case with each and every Hoffman performance out there.