“Capote” actually earns its nominations
Of the five films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, “Capote” may be the most accessible, which says a lot about the sober nature of this year’s crop. Like “Crash,” “Munich,” “Brokeback Mountain,” and “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “Capote” is not designed with the average moviegoer in mind. Yet its story is more traditional, and those willing to tolerate the film’s languid pace will discover a multi-layered film that features an unforgettable performance by Oscar nominee Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
Even those who know little about title character Truman Capote should be mesmerized by Hoffman’s ability to not so much imitate but channel’s the author’s fey mannerisms, odd speech patterns and eccentric demeanor.
Capote’s uniqueness and literary success (he wrote “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”) made him a hit with the Jet Set in the late 50s, a raconteur whose storytelling enchanted socialites.
The course of his life would be altered when, as a writer for The New Yorker, he read about a quadruple homicide in the small farm community of Holcomb, Kansas. He convinces his editor (Bob Balaban) to let him go to Kansas to do a story. Joined by longtime friend Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), who would later write “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Capote embarks on an investigation into the killings that would lead to the seminal American novel “In Cold Blood.”
The film has two major plotlines. One observes Capote’s arduous and tedious effort to write the manuscript, which included countless interviews with the two accused murderers– particularly Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.). The other, more indirect story line is the corrosive effect the nearly six year project has on Capote himself. Equally asserting both manipulation and empathy, Capote is fascinated by the criminal’s background and motivations, yet exploits his subjects for his own conceits. “Sometimes when I think of how good my book can be,” Capote muses, “I can hardly breathe.”
As the story concludes with the execution of the killers, the film doesn’t pack the same emotional wallop of the similarly constructed “Dead Man Walking.” Nor does the film desire to make a grand polemic about the individuals involved. But that works to the film’s advantage. It’s not a message movie, but rather a subtle exploration into one man’s literary quest and the gray areas surrounding a singular author’s investigation into the dark side of human behavior.
While only Capote experts can judge the accuracy of Hoffman’s portrayal, it is an unquestionably compelling and intricate interpretation. Although Keener is nominated for a supporting role, it speaks volumes about the more competitive male actor categories that Oscar snubbed a penetratingly scary yet still sympathetic performance by Collins.
Rated R for mild profanity and brief graphic violence.