The Good: Decent acting, Decent anti-mood
The Bad: Disappointing resolution, Unempathetic protagonist, Pacing
The Basics: In a disappointing story that has an unlikable protagonist doing almost nothing, Capote flops.
Possibly the funniest sketch on Mad TV in 2006 was the barrage of Truman Capote movies they launched in a recent episode, a reaction to the release of Capote, followed quite closely by the release of Infamous. As the actors become more and more preposterously cast, the repetitive previews become more and more outrageous. I'd rather watch that series of sketches than rewatch Capote. Ever.
Capote follows the somewhat pointless chronicle of Truman Capote as he investigates the slaying of a family in Kansas with Harper Lee. Capote becomes fascinated with one of the two alleged murderers, upon whom he based his novel In Cold Blood. And the movie goes on and on and on with Capote obsessed with the people, not the case or his actual writing.
This 114 minute film recalls to my mind the Korean film The Road Home. When I saw The Road Home (reviewed here!), someone I was with turned to me after the movie was over and said, "If that had been an American film, it would have been over in 15 minutes." Capote is similar; it's long without going anywhere.
Now, I've read other reviews of Capote and the thing I find most prevalent in them is a love of In Cold Blood, the novel Capote is doing the research for in the movie or a general love of Truman Capote. The problem those reviews face is that this movie is not In Cold Blood. It is also not a portrait of Truman Capote that does anything extraordinary in terms of making the novelist understandable. In short, this movie features Truman Capote without exploring him. It doesn't give us any insight into what makes him tick. The best possible analogy I can give is Luke Skywalker in A New Hope. In Star Wars Episode 4, Luke Skywalker walks around doing things mostly from rote without any real clear idea of why he is doing them. He's a young person and a farmer and his whole reason to pick up a lightsaber is because his father had been a Jedi. In fact, his listless reason for suggesting he might want to join the Rebellion is because that's where his best friend (Biggs) was. But largely, Luke's part in A New Hope is to kind of witlessly walk around the galaxy doing things without any real idea of who he is or what makes him tick.
Truman Capote in Capote is the same way. He's got writer's block, so he goes out to Kansas to investigate the murder of a family there. And we see him interview some people. Then, we see him hanging onto interviews with Perry Smith. But we don't know what fascinates him about Perry. And we don't know what makes it near impossible for Capote to write about all this. And we don't know why he is obsessed by it.
Reviewers that say anything else are extrapolating. They provide their own insights from what they've read about Truman Capote. It's not in the movie. In the movie, he and Harper Lee go out to Kansas, he meets some people, he does some interviews and BANG! he's obsessed while impotent at the keyboard. And the viewer of this movie sits there wondering why. Was he horrified by what he saw? Did he suddenly think he could see inside the mind of the killers? Was it so alien he couldn't? Who knows? Not people who watch the movie.
As for the performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who I like in other roles (he's a favorite of P.T. Anderson, who I'm a fan of), Hoffman admittedly gets the high pitched, lispy voice of Truman Capote. That cannot be denied, as the DVD has footage of Truman Capote. Is it a great performance? I'd argue "no." Why? In one of the bonus features to Magnolia (reviewed here!), Hoffman is goofing around doing physical comedy about knocking all sorts of things over on the set and the shtick he's doing is almost what he does as Capote. The way he holds his body, the subtle smirk as things get out of hand, I've seen there. That tells me the role was not much of a stretch for Hoffman. And, frankly, I'd go back to the argument that the film doesn't reveal much about the title character, making it hard to like him. So suddenly, for example, he goes from treasuring his friend Harper Lee to being outwardly jealous of her success.
Which leads us to the best performance and character in Capote. It's Catherine Keener as Harper Lee. Keener is fantastic, Lee is well written and well portrayed. Keener carries her with grace and dignity and she is the sole sensible and watchable part of the movie. She ought to do a companion piece about Lee without Capote. I'd probably watch that.
As for this, it might be fine for fans of Truman Capote or In Cold Blood who want to project all their own stuff into the movie. But as a film alone where one goes in cold looking for a story that says something or explores the depth of a character or wows me in some other way, this film fails.
For other biography films, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
The Life Of Emil Zola
For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the movies I have reviewed!
© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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