Tuesday 25 August 2020

Movie Review: Capote (2005)

A biographical drama, Capote enjoys a dominant performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman as it traces the author's investigation of the murder case that crowned his writing career.

In 1959, jovial New Yorker writer Truman Capote (Hoffman) reads a newspaper article about the brutal murder of a family of four in rural Kansas. He decides to investigate and write about the case, and travels to Kansas with budding author Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) to visit the scene of the crime and talk to the locals. They bond with lead police investigator Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) and his wife Marie (Amy Ryan). 

Soon two men are arrested and charged: Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Richard Hickock (Mark Pellegrino). Truman finds the soft-spoken Smith fascinating, and after the two men are convicted and sentenced to death, Capote arranges a better lawyer for the murderers and spends long hours in conversations with Smith.

Capote starts to write In Cold Blood, but the case drags on with a series of appeals. Smith refuses to talk about the night of the murders, and Capote sinks into emotional doldrums and heavy drinking, unable to enjoy life with his book stalled.

Exploring the personal trauma churning behind the celebrated true crime book, Capote is the colourful story of a flamboyant personality meeting his greatest challenge. Dan Futterman wrote the script from Gerald Clarke's book, and director Bennett Miller brings to life an author deliberately diving ever deeper into the mystery of the senseless killings at an isolated Kansas farm house.

While characters like Harper Lee, life partner Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood) and the Deweys orbit this period of Capote's life, the unusual bond between author and murderer Perry Smith emerges as the core of the film. Perry's calm demeanour, his expansive vocabulary and the stillness in his eyes are at odds with a cold blooded killer, and Capote patiently waits for Smith to share the unshareable before he can finish his book.

The fascination is also drawn from too-close-for-comfort similarities between the backgrounds of the two men. As Capote learns more about Smith he traces the parallels in their upbringings, and the thin lines of opportunity resulting in one man becoming a killer and the other a famous and successful author.

Capote: It's as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front.

And as much as Capote genuinely wants to help Smith and his crime partner Hickock get a fair shake out of the justice system, ambition clashes with humanity as his frustrations mount the longer the case drags without a final resolution and Smith still refusing to talk about the murders.  

Hoffman disappears into Capote, infusing oodles of confidence and heartfelt passion into the openly gay celebrity author, whether regaling his entourage with endless stories or staring at the bottom of an empty glass while barely enduring the delays as sentence appeals drag all the way to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately none of the other characters or performances come close to competing with Hoffman for attention. The brutal multiple murders are the only counterpoint, and the film skirts the edges of becoming a one-man show.

In Cold Blood was Capote's final completed book. The film salutes the man behind a seminal work, and the tortured process of creating a literary masterpiece out of a heinous crime.

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