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12 reviews, 31 user ratings

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by Erik Childress

"Being Truman Capote Is A Life-Draining Experience"
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Seinfeld and Constanza reveled in the name of Truman Capote. Neither could say they had read any of his work, but the name carried some weight even in their world of ignorance. Nowadays, we may have forgotten that the non-fiction novel had to have been invented. But it did and Capote was the one to use facts instead of outright creative license to dramatize the tragic true story of a murdered family in 1959 and the two killers who put the whole project in motion. Punctuated by a career performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman, the dramatization of that fact-finding mission is just as powerful, providing the outlook of a man whose rise to societal glitter would come crashing down back to a reality that hit a little too close to home.

Truman Capote was already man on the inside of Hollywood’s glamour culture. Gatherings would plant themselves in his corner of the room and listen to his flamboyant tales of living within that life and the colleagues bemused with his homosexuality. Almost bored by his own ramblings, Capote decided to test the waters of non-fiction with an article for the New Yorker about evil infecting this quiet Kansas town. With him he brings his friend and research assistant, Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), who has just completed “some bird” manuscript.

Sheriff Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) reacts with caution in allowing this big city socialite access to the case but can’t help his family the opportunity to mingle with this infiltrating celebrity. Unexpectedly, two men are arrested for the crimes and with a quick sentence to death, Truman knows they are an integral part to the story and recognizes a small piece quickly turning into a book he knew would solidify his reputation. He becomes enamored of Perry Smith (Clifton Collins, Jr.), the soft-spoken but well-read convict and finds himself acting as their benefactor, getting them appeals and stretching out their sentence all in the name of getting him to talk about the murders. His dilemma though is to have an ending – he needs them to die.

The tricky thing that the film accomplishes is in seducing the audience the way Capote was capable of. An undeniable charm with a cadre of anecdotes, he was a funny little man who was all smiles as long as the focus was on him. As evidenced by his later years when he was shunned by many of his friends, Truman had his own agenda and didn’t care whose feelings he stomped on to reach it. As we watch him become more and more involved with Perry, what may have been love turns into lies. The turmoil this takes on the writer may be the first and only time in his life when the untruths he sold to another actually took a toll on himself. We are made to experience this anguish along with him and come to understand why when fact intruded on the fiction he was used to – Capote was unable to write another lasting word for the remainder of his career.

Heaps of praise are going to be stemming from every written word about this film for Philip Seymour Hoffman. Nomination-bound. Oscar-bound. Virtuoso embodiment. Get used to it. And who is anyone to argue? Yes, he’s got the effete little voice down pat and the mannerisms follow like second nature. That’s the easy part. But watch Hoffman in his quieter scenes with his subjects; where the lies come out so naturally yet appear to be punching out his teeth to get through. Or how in the midst of his internal moral quandary he deals with being a secondary character in a room where one of his closest friends has just published To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s neglect, boredom and a frank coldness that make us understand the seemingly oversimplistic contention that its as if Perry Smith and him grew up in the same house and one went out the back door and the other went through the front. Truman never shotgunned anyone in the face, but cut them down in other ways only to go on living with that hurt.

Capote is one of the most emotionally tolling experiences I’ve had in the movies in some time. There was a sense of drain that I walked out with; put both in Capote’s shoes and reeling from the see-saw examination of wickedness. Clifton Collins Jr.’s performance as Perry Smith gives Robert Blake a run for his money, ingesting a man who may have been too human for his own good; intelligent but clueless, calm but steadily impatient. How we can be unprepared to fear even while its staring us right in the face is more flawlessly engineered than a hundred scare tactics and is a lesson this Kansas town learned all too well. Bennett Miller’s first film, The Cruise, also centered upon a self-made, but little known, celebrity with a bombastic personality and with college buddies, Hoffman and screenwriter/actor Dan Futterman have delved into the devil we know and more than we probably ever cared to. They may not have reinvented the biopic the way Capote did to non-fiction, but found something deeper and sadder just as their subject did.

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originally posted: 10/21/05 15:05:16
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell good film imho 4 stars
10/28/13 ClemenceDane I remember Capote, too, from television appearances & PSH didn't capture him at ALL! 2 stars
9/13/12 Alex Good review man 4 stars
3/15/10 Jeff Wilder The film id merely good but Hoffman 4 stars
2/11/10 Kenny the killings were in Kansas not Kentucky. fyi. 3 stars
4/14/09 Shaw C. PSH is a good actor but did not shine in this one. Award should go to Collins Jr 3 stars
3/31/09 Flounder A supremely introspective and probing character study the likes of which left me in awe 5 stars
11/22/08 Shaun Wallner Interesting Movie! 4 stars
12/11/07 R.W.Welch Not exactly gripping but Hoffman is dead on in title role. C+ 3 stars
10/25/07 Ivana Mann Emotionally blunted,boring.If you enjoy watching linoleum slowly curl,you'll like this. 2 stars
10/06/06 MP Bartley Austere character study. Brilliant performances across the board. 4 stars
9/13/06 Edward Connell Place yourself in Capote`s place and become fascinated and intrigued. 3 stars
9/12/06 Michael Coovert Never understood the hoopla; movie did not live up to the true story of Capote. 3 stars
8/17/06 Mary Beth flat, not engrossing 2 stars
7/18/06 CTT Mesmerizing and harrowing 5 stars
6/18/06 millersxing A chilling drama. It requires intense effort and energy to watch in one sitting. 4 stars
6/03/06 Ken Kaplan Awesome is the word. One of the most incisive reviews I've seen. One of the best pictures v 5 stars
5/24/06 Indrid Cold Certainly well made, but far too dreary and languid to be enjoyable. 3 stars
5/19/06 Annie G Gripping story, incredible acting, overall a fabulous movie. 5 stars
4/10/06 Phil M. Aficionado Brilliant in all respects:Concept, casting/acting,script, mood, pace, cinematograpy, focus. 5 stars
4/09/06 Simon 'chilling' is the word I can't get out of my head. a prying, no-nonsensely done film. 5 stars
3/13/06 Roderick Cromar I wouldn't let him marry my daughter. 4 stars
3/08/06 Piz Wow what a surprise. A great biopic worthy of best pic. 5 stars
3/07/06 Monday Morning Totally enlightening, revealing & surprising biopic, brilliantly done. 5 stars
3/04/06 Green Gremlin The best biopic in years. Philip Seymour Hoffman desrves the Oscar !!! 5 stars
2/18/06 john bale Hoffman IS Capote in this powerful film and memorable performance. 5 stars
11/29/05 jcjs awesome, Phillip S. Hoffman, wow..a delight to watch acting and story supreme 5 stars
11/24/05 Desperado If PSH does not get an Oscar, somethings wrong terrific yet chilling movie, Incredible 5 stars
11/09/05 Suzz exquisite acting; very, very fine film 5 stars
9/28/05 E. Northam Brilliant casting; superlative performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman 5 stars
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  30-Sep-2005 (R)
  DVD: 21-Mar-2006

  24-Feb-2006 (15)


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