2006-07-12 08:36


In November 1959 writer Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) travelled to rural Kansas to research an article for the New Yorker magazine. His subject was an apparently senseless crime - the murder of a whole family on their farm - and its effect on the community. With the help of childhood friend and fellow writer Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), Capote gained the trust of the locals, including agent Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) the lawman responsible for finding those who committed the murders. When the killers - Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) - were duly caught, Capote visited them frequently in jail and soon won their trust also. The only problem was Capote now found he had too much good material for a single article; it would have to be a book. Little did Capote realise that the work - eventually to be titled "In Cold Blood" - would consume six more years of his life, and a large part of his sanity.


You may be wondering whether all the hype around Capote is deserved, or whether it is just yet more hot air generated by an industry which specialises in such things. Rest assured, Capote is thoroughly brilliant, as is Philip Seymour Hoffman's bravura performance. But be warned that this does not mean the film is especially likeable or even traditionally enjoyable.

As is true of all the other choices for this year's (rather freakish) Best Picture Oscar, Capote is a serious and difficult film. It challenges rather than entertains, forcing you to engage with it in a way that many might find uncomfortable. But this effort is well rewarded in the end. Like many great films the power of Capote only truly becomes apparent after you have left the theatre. It insinuates itself into your consciousness, and you may find yourself mulling over it for days afterwards.

Hoffman's portrayal of the title character is central to the film's power. Like JT Walsh and Steve Buscemi, Hoffman has made a career out of playing unlikeable characters. For 15 years and three dozen movies he was "that guy" - the slob, the prig, the weirdo - whose face every movie lover knew. Then, after years of honing his craft to a razor edge, he was offered the perfect part.

Why perfect? Apart from the physical concerns (his resemblance to Capote is uncanny), the part required an actor of great technical skill, a tolerance for being disliked by audiences and, above all, the kind of personality that would not overwhelm this delicately balanced part. Hoffman is all these things and more.

Of course, suitable or not, Hoffman still had to produce the goods. Like Felicity Huffman in Transamerica, he delivers a complete performance, blending technical virtuosity and emotional credibility into an utterly convincing whole. From his seamless imitation of Capote's distinctive high voice to his posture, his mannerism and even his gait, Hoffman doesn't act like Truman Capote, he becomes Truman Capote.

Given the brilliance of Hoffman's performance, it's easy to forget about the rest of the film going on around him. But this is all part of the film's sly power. While Hoffman is turning thespian cartwheels, the film is slowly but surely getting under your skin. From the starkly beautiful cinematography to the brilliant and understated screenplay, Capote is as finely crafted as a pocket watch.

The supporting cast too, while they appear to be overshadowed by Hoffman, are all the while delivering performances of infinite care and restraint. While Katherine Keener was (justly) honoured with an Oscar nomination, actors like Chris Cooper and Bruce Greenwood deserve no less credit here. Clifton Collins Jr. gives the performance of his career as killer Perry Smith, matching Hoffman beat for beat in every scene.

A lot of praise (and criticism) of the movie has focussed on the movie's social relevance. It's explorations of subjects like class, journalistic ethics and capital punishment are without a doubt compelling. But to pigeonhole Capote as an "issues" movie is to miss its greatest strengths. Few films have captured subjects like the complex dynamics of human relationships and the contrast between private and public persona with as much skill. What makes Capote truly unusual among American films is that it is more about absences than presences - more about what is not said than what is made clear.

If you do go and see Capote, beware of the trailers and the dreaded Hollywood hype. This is not a carefree night out at the movies, and the lead character is likely to irritate if not enrage you. Like its subject, Capote is a difficult film to feel affection for. But, as with Syriana, you will soon find that the lasting impression is well worth any initial discomfort.

- Alistair Fairweather

It's easy to see why Philip Seymour Hoffman won this year's Best Actor Oscar - his performance in Capote is as extraordinary as the movie itself.

Michael 2006/03/24 2:34 PM
Truman Well done, at last you get true recognition. I think you should have won an oscar many years ago
Georgina 2006/05/02 11:40 AM
Stunning Seymour-Hoffman's performance is truly exceptional, and carries this movie on it's shoulders, with a hand from the sturdy capable cast and the wonderful Catherine Keener. The whole movie is really his angels and demons, and delves into the entire enigma of Truman Capote with deft style, elegance and sheer watch-ability. I was so intruiged and fascinated by this portrayal that I went to find his biography, and was duly impressed by the credence and credibility of this picture.
paul 2006/12/29 1:59 PM
Revolting Never seen so many hideous people with such awful speech impediments
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