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Capote

Philip Seymour Hoffman is an actor who has always been worth watching, even in the tiniest, most prosaic moments like walking into a hotel lobby or reading a newspaper, and his Oscar recognition for Capote was long overdue. Nice that he got it for one of his few starring roles, rather than for the quality work he consistently creates as a supporting player.

Capote is ostensibly about Truman Capote peeling back the reasons why someone would murder four people in cold blood. But, as one would expect in an eponymously titled film, as he forms a relationship with one of the two murderers, we - and he - learn even more about himself.

Hoffman draws a character who is charming, selfish, articulate, self-aggrandising, emotionally giving, manipulative, gifted and cruel. As always, he brings out the humanity in his character: a deep reserve of compassion behind his eyes, or at least the appearance of it.

Some wonderful cinematography (especially the establishing shots), steady pacing, tone-setting music and excellent work by Catherine Keener as Nelle Harper Lee on the verge of literary breakthrough. Actually, I can't think of false note in any of the performances.

Capote sets out to write a book "to return [the killers] to the realm of humanity", but as he achieves this aim, he is caught between in his own emotional involvement for Smith, one of the killers, and his writerly ambition.

Capote is a character piece that tackles a broader theme: the relationship between an artist and his own humanity. It's something that is often brought up by writers (especially) but also photographers, actors, directors and so forth. As tale tellers or chroniclers artists are constantly observing, and cognisant of the act of observing. At the same time, they are also people with emotional reactions to the circumstances they find themselves in, or are witness to. This often leads to a parallel awareness, of being in the moment, while also stepping outside it; for instance, being shocked, while at the same time thinking "So, this is what shock feels like, this is what I can use." Capote can feel deep compassion for the people he interviews for the book he is writing, even as he cruelly lies to them in order to get extract the information he needs. It's this paradox - and the way it's realised on screen - that makes the character such an interesting one.

Which is not to say that the film is an endorsement of this manipulation for the sake of art. The fact that the postscript states that Capote never finished another novel (and in fact died an alcoholic), perhaps - as the film implies - as a result of what he learned about himself during the writing of In Cold Blood, to me argues that Capote's humanity won out over his artistic ambition, even if it wasn't enough to save himself.

Further, in Harper Lee I think we have an example of an artist who can create brilliant work that shows a deep understanding of the human condition, while still not giving up her own humanity in the process; something that Hoffman's Capote verges on doing in the film.

Anyway... not expressing this as clearly as I'd like, so moving on:

Capote was one of those movies that competed with another (roughly) contemporaneous film on the same topic: like Ants and A Bug's Life or Armageddon and Deep Impact. (Or the two musical adaptations of The Wild Party playing at the same time on Broadway a few years ago.) In this case, the other Capote biopic exploring the writing of In Cold Blood is called Infamous (with Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee (!?), though apparently she auditioned for the same role in this movie (!?!?)). It's gotten good reviews as well; will have to watch out for it.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 5, 2006 11:25 PM.

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