This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
You wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I am in fact one of the world’s foremost experts in the field of not knowing very much about American author Truman Capote. I say this not to glorify my blinding, intense ignorance but rather to inform you, gentle reader, that if it’s historical fact checking and accuracy reports of this Oscar nominated look-see at Capote’s life during the writing of his opus In Cold Blood then this is not the best place to look.
1959, Holcomb, Kansas. A small town’s peace is shattered by the brutal killing of the Clutter family. Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is stirred to write a piece for the New Yorker magazine on the impact this has on the town. The material soon expands to a more book-shaped work, especially after the arrest and trial of the killers Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Richard Hickock (Mark Pellegrino). A death sentence is handed down, the appeals against which and thus the chronicling of the story takes seven years.
Eventually published as the first ‘non-fiction novel’ after Smith and Hickock take the short drop with a sharp stop, it’s hailed as a masterpiece and Capote as the greatest living American novelist. He never finishes another book, for reasons that are the emotional heart of this story and the reasons it’s such a great film.
Capote has a rather more interesting focus than most biopics, namely the relationship that builds over the course of Capote’s interviews with Smith. There’s a clear identification with the convict born of some similarly unfortunate upbringings, and a certain bond that nevertheless is a tricky one to square away with his own morals. Of course, Capote’s happy to lie, cheat and bribe his way to get his story and his character certainly isn’t painted in shades of sweetness and light.
Truman Capote, as depicted here at any rate, is by turns charming, erudite, witty, duplicitous, smarmy, condescending, considerate, egotistical and unpleasant. Basically human, in other words, but a very interesting human thanks to his unique combination of circumstances and neuroses. The reason Capote works as a film, in large part, is because it’s about Truman Capote.
The other reason it works is Hoffman. So often relegated to support roles or ensemble member, despite very often stealing the show it seemed he’d be doomed never to be seen as a lead actor in his own right. Capote ought to put paid to that sentiment, and it seems Oscar agrees. For my money at least, this is the finest acting performance of the last Oscar-year (amongst insanely strong competition), and more than likely the best of the decade so far. It’s rare for a bitter old curmudgeon like me to wax lyrical about this sort of thing, so I at least find it significant that my lyrics are currently being well and truly waxed. It’s rather chafing, you know.
The supporting cast give uniformly accomplished turns to back Hoffman up, with Clifton Collins Jr. proving particularly effective. While Catherine Keener gives a likable and essentially faultless showing as Capote’s friend, research assistant and fellow author Harper Lee, given how decidedly sidelined the character is for nigh-on-all of the film after the first half hour I’m left puzzling over how slender the eligibility for this year’s best supporting actress gong must be.
Kudos must also go to Bennett Miller’s direction. With essentially no real action to lean on to maintain a grip on the audience the pacing of the piece becomes even more critical than usual yet this is never less than compelling stuff throughout.
If there’s a bad point to this film I haven’t found it. It deserves it’s best picture nomination richly, and if you hold yourself in the slightest esteem at all you richly deserve to see this at your earliest convenience. Away ye to a cinema.