Dir: Bennett Miller (first freaking feature film)
One of the fun things about this blog is going back and reading something that someone write a while ago about a movie that you have just watched. So I am cam across what Ron wrote just a month ago. In reference to Capote's focus on the creative process, he said "Marcus . . . this is your film."
Um, yeah. Understatement of the Blog award goes to Ron.
Exceptional, spellbindingly good biopic. Among the most intelligent movies I have ever seen. The biggest slam dunk for best actor honors I have seen in a long time. And a vital document of the creative process, a story about telling stories that illuminates both the characters and speaks to art itself.
The writing itself is reason to love the film. Some films are able to develop complex stories or really unpack characters by jumping forward in the story and forcing the audience to fill in the details themselves. Think Godfather II here. In that film the complex political machinations are rarely spelled out, but the actions of the characters provide hints as to what happened between edits. Godfather II was very challenging as a result, and it takes several viewings to really grasp it. That makes watching it over and over so rewarding. Capote is less complicated, but no less engaging. For example, as the killers work their way through the appeals process, Truman Capote takes an increasingly ambivalent (sometimes hostile) attitude toward their fate. But it is only after we are well into a scene that we really know how much time has elapsed or how the courtroom battles are going. Looks of fear, or sighs, or furrowed brows are all the clues we get, or need. In another scene, Capote is talking on the phone to his lover and catches the eye of another man across the street. We fill in the rest. That is, to my mind, the mark of a sophsticated script, in that it respects the intelligence of its audience. The direction and editing are very sophisticated.
The most aparrant triumph of the film is Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was obviously one of the greatest of his generation before this film, but this performance is a giant step forward even from that. We have seen many imitations in film lately, actors who do their best to adopt the mannerisms of their famous subjects. Sometimes it works (Ray), sometimes it doesn't. And certainly Hoffman pulls off the distinctive affectations of Capote to a tea. But that isn't enough for this film, like is was for Ray. Few in the country, and almost no one under 40 (unless you have seen Murder By Death like me), knows how Capote spoke or acted. Hoffman also adds tremendous emotional depth and the ability to communicate the nuance of a man used to manipulating whole crowds with his wit, charm and intelligence. When those skills are trained on folks in the middle of Kanses, Hoffman makes them slightly sinister. And as the film progresses, and Capote's motives become more complicated, so too does this manipuation. Small but essential shifts in face, voice, posture, gesture, all of the tools of an actor, the product of what must have been obsessive attention to detail. It is an absolute tour de force.
And I haven't even gotten to my favorite part of the film. Paul asked earlier about the relationship between Capote and In Cold Blood. That is the whole movie! A focused, insightful, fascinating examination of how great works come to be. The answer is through pain and deceit and compassion and talent and sacrifice. Having seen the film In Cold Blood several times, it was particuarly rewarding for me to see its creation story told. Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park With George" is another example. Both works focus on the aesthetic process, a challenging subject that once again asks much of the audience. And both argue that the creation of great works can have devastating consequences on the artist. This focus on craft elevates Capote beyond just life story. In Walk the Line, overcoming childhood trauma is the whole point, an easy story line that everyone can intuitively grasp. In Capote, that is just subtext to understand Truman's work, a far more interesting subject matter.
I loved the film. It may have been better than Crash (have to see it again to know). Watch in tandem with In Cold Blood and you have one hell of a movie night.