A Character Study Based on a Famous 20th-Century Figure
Truman Capote (1924-84) has been celebrated both for his elegant prose and for his flamboyant lifestyle. The film Capote (2005) takes an interpretive look at the famous author during the five-and-a-half year period when he was researching and writing In Cold Blood. The movie is an absolutely fascinating character study.
Academy Awards and Lead Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman
Capote was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director (Bennett Miller), Best Adapted Screenplay (Dan Futterman) and Best Supporting Actress (Catherine Keener). The movie is strong in all aspects of filmmaking, but it is centered around the brilliant performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. I was impressed with Hoffman's ability to capture the real-life Capote's fey mannerisms and whiny voice, but his performance goes beyond mimicry. The screenplay's Truman Capote is unlikable, yet Hoffman managed to get me to sympathize with his character anyway.
Capote's Life Prior to the Period Covered by the Movie
The film is set during what is arguably the pivotal period of Capote's life, but I thought it might be helpful to supply some context. Truman ended his schooling at age 17 and got a job with The New Yorker magazine. When he was 24, his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, was published. About five years later, he wrote the screenplay for Beat the Devil, a 1953 movie that starred Humphrey Bogart. In 1958 Capote's short novel Breakfast at Tiffany's hit the bookstores. While all this was going on, he ingratiated himself with the social elite and became a much-sought-after guest at their gatherings.
The Movie's Capote
When the film opens in late 1959, Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has not yet received much critical acclaim, and most of the general public has never heard of him. He sets out to develop a magazine piece on a multiple murder in Kansas, but soon realizes he has a shot at writing a book that will put him in the literary pantheon and make him famous. The movie, which ends just after the murderers are executed in 1965, chronicles Capote's experiences in preparing his book, which is In Cold Blood.
In the film, Capote is depicted as a narcissistic genius who lies and ruthlessly manipulates people in his quest to create great art and attain international fame. He achieves his objectives, but what he goes through along the way leaves him emotionally ruined.
Capote's Life After the Period Covered by the Movie
After completing In Cold Blood, Capote's creative output was small. He did some work on a book titled Answered Prayersafter Saint Theresa of Ávila's saying, "More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones"but he never finished it. He was on television quite a bit, and I remember his appearances as being very entertaining, particularly on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. But as the years passed, he descended into alcoholism and drug abuse.
Catherine Keener and Others in the Supporting Cast
Capote keeps its focus on its title character, and it's structured as a star vehicle for Philip Seymour Hoffman. However, there are some supporting performances I want to mention. Catherine Keener is wonderful as Nelle Harper Lee, the To Kill a Mockingbird author who was Capote's friend. Chris Cooper makes it look effortless as he portrays Alvin Dewey, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent in charge of the murder case. Bruce Greenwood plays Capote's lover Jack Dunphy, who comes off here as rather bland.
The role of the murderer Perry Smith is taken in Capote by Clifton Collins Jr. Somehow this character did not come alive for me to the degree I had expected he would, but the fault may be mine. I can never get out of my head Robert Blake's portrayal of Smith in the 1967 movie version of In Cold Blood.
Capote DVD Contains Three Good Featurettes
The three featurettes on the Capote DVD are all worth watching. There's a seven-minute featurette titled "Answered Prayers" on the real-life Capote, in which we hear from Gerald Clarke, author of Capote: A Biography. The other two featurettes are behind-the-scenes documentaries, each roughly 18 minutes in length. The first of these is mainly about the cast, while the second is about the people who work behind the camera. I particularly enjoyed the second one, which goes into production design, costuming and shooting in and around Winnipeg.
DVD Provides Two Commentary Tracks, Both Boring
There are two audio commentary tracks on the Capote DVD. The first is by director Bennett Miller and lead actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, and it is one of the most boring commentaries I've ever heard. The second commentary track, which is by Miller and cinematographer Adam Kimmel, is a little more interesting, but I can't recommend it.
On the next page, I've listed the details for the Capote DVD.