Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 23, 2005 5:48 pm 
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Bennett Miller: Capote (USA 2005). 114 minutes. Sony Pictures Classics release. Shown at the New York Film Festival, Lincoln Center, September 27 and 28, 2005.

A star turn (needless to say, Truman would have loathed it)

This movie is a portrait of Truman Capote at the pivotal moment when he created the self-styled "non-fiction novel" In Cold Blood that made him the most famous writer in America and was the last book he was ever able to finish. Hence it's also the story of the Clutter family massacre in Kansas that the book was about and of Perry and Dick, the outcast murderers of the Clutters, and it describes in detail Capote's intense relationship with Perry -- hauntingly played by Clifton Collins, Jr. Philip Seymour Hoffman's spot-on recreation of Capote's whine and wit and self-absorption and brilliance and other complexly contradictory characteristics sucks the oxygen out of the rest of the picture. Catherine Keener is strong as Capote's initial sidekick Harper Lee and so is Chris Cooper as Kansas detective Alvin Dewey -- but it's really all about Capote, who yet remains troublingly opaque. The massacre and its aftermath were already powerfully recreated in the book In Cold Blood and in the still powerful 1967 Richard Brooks film made from it: it's just sketched in here. Hoffman holds center stage throughout. What grabs you is Capote's tormented selfishness, the way his need to become famous and finish the book made him overlook how much the death by hanging of Perry (which he witnessed) would shatter him. The costumes and sets and visuals are relatively uninteresting; director Miller, who styles himself as fastidious, seems not to have cared enough about them. Capote sounds and acts so right you may not notice that he doesn't always look right: Hoffman's hands are big and fat and dirty-looking and his Capote is never seen in a room that expresses his exquisite gay pack-rat personality. It's good that in New York there has been a revival of Brooks' stark classic In Cold Blood, which may lead to a wide review of this more thorough treatment of the subject and show people better what made Capote have to write the book.

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