Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Dir: Bennett Miller (Capote)


This is the type of "biopic" I like; it does not have the pretense that so many biopics suffer-the conceit that you can capture the essence of an individual in three acts. While "Capote" examines the man, its primary focus is on the relationship of artist and subject. In particular, "Capote" traces the author's struggle in writing In Cold Blood (Marcus, I am reminded of your comment after the Girl with the Pearl Earring that you dig films that give a/the backstory to artistic creations. Then this is your film).

At the time he elects to write about the horrific murder of a Kansas family, Capote is already a celebrated American playwright and author. Fascinated with the sheer brutality of the murders, Capote interviews all the affected townsfolk as well as the killers, Richard Hickcock and Perry Smith. Capote is perfectly affable, using his charm and fame to seduce others into sharing their stories. Few are wise to Capote's mechanations, unsettled by his self-absorbed efforts to write the groundbreaking book at the expense of real people's emotions. The movie turns on his relationship with Perry Smith, the more thoughtful of the two killers. Despite a close relationship, Smith refuses to speak about the night of the actual murders, the only piece of information Capote needs to finish his book. Capote hires the best attorneys to ensure stays of executions, in hopes that Smith might recount the events. While he seeks closure to his book, Capote denies the small Kansas town its own resolution. The self-absorbed Capote is tortured by the book; he tells his editor that the book is killing him and he needs it to end--and the logical consequence is the execution of the two murderers.

Capote has no compunction in manipulating Smith, who believes Capote to be a true friend (may be he is). Smith asks little of Capote, except for the title of the book. Capote denies settling on the title when in fact the giddy Capote already selected In Cold Blood, a title that carries the weight of judgment. In the most telling line of the movie, Capote shares his title with the local sheriff who in turn asks whether the title refers to the killers or Capote (a Nietzschean read of this film can provide a wealth of insight).

The film's moral conscience is Harper Lee, Capote's close friend who accompanies him to Kansas. During the course of the film, Lee enjoys her own success with the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird (perhaps the most morally righteous book in the 20th century), but Capote can not (will not?) share in Lee's accomplishment, for he does not understand what all the fuss is about.

That Philip Seymour Hoffmann could very well win an Oscar for his performance. Oh wait. I know little of Capote the man, but Hoffman's performance is quite striking. He embodies a determined artist that relishes his own greatness while teetering on the precipice of disabling insecurity. The film romanticizes the life of an author just enough that you want to like Capote and be part of his jet-setting, New York intellectual life style, but every time we get close enough, Capote pulls away.

Miller is a first time director, but he shows incredible maturity with the camera. The performances are spot-on and he possesses a real sense of vision. Novice directors are often enamoured with the camera's abilities and rely on cinematographic gimmicks to add a directorial signature (Clooney in Confessions and Zack Braff in Garden State fall victim to that, with that said, both show amazing potential behind the camera-i.e., GNGL). But Miller recognizes the heart of the story and uses the camera to service the plot and not the other way around. Keep an eye on him.

At first, I thought this was the odd film out in the list of best pictures, but it is perhaps the film that has stuck with me the most. Evident by the size of this post, I have a lot to say about.

Highly recommended.


Blogger Damien noted on 3/08/2006 11:47:00 AM that...

I saw this on Saturday before the Academy Awards and was blown away by Hoffman's performance. Granted, Heath Ledger was good in Brokeback, but Hoffman was unbelievable in Capote.

And he's an actor's actor. For the 36 days of the film shooting, he stayed in character.