Friday, February 14, 2014

Capote (2005)

Director: Bennett Miller                                  Writer: Dan Futterman
Film Score: Mychael Danna                           Cinematography: Adam Kimmel
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper and Bruce Greenwood

After the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman I wanted to revisit his Oscar-winning performance in Capote. This was the film that, for me, really brought him back to my consciousness after a memorable performance in Scent of a Woman. From then on, he became an actor of the first order for me and it’s still sad to think about what might have been. This is certainly an iconic performance, and it’s difficult to think of any other actor who could have pulled it off with the restraint that Hoffman did. But then this is a film full of brilliant actors, and that is another thing that makes it a powerful experience. Finally, the directing and, especially the production design, set it apart from almost anything I have seen in the last twenty years in the way in which the look of the film mirrors the story on the screen. It’s incredibly impressive on many levels.

As Hoffman said repeatedly, this is not a biopic. It’s six years in the life of Truman Capote as he worked on the research and writing of his most famous work, In Cold Blood. This was the story of the murder of a family of four out in the Kansas prairie. Something about the story compelled Capote to travel to the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, and he brought along his closest friend, Nell Harper Lee, whose novel To Kill a Mockingbird was picked up for publishing while he was there. Though his presence in the town was at first resisted, he had a way of ingratiating himself to people and became part of all their lives. But something changed when he met the murderers. In attempting to make his book something unique he spent time with them, especially Perry Smith, and before long Capote himself became as much a part of the story as the people he was writing about. Unfortunately, it changed him in ways he could have never imagined.

Of course Hoffman was brilliant in the role, and this was acknowledged by the Academy. In addition, one of my favorite actresses, Catherine Keener, gives a powerfully subtle performance as Harper Lee and was nominated as best supporting actress herself. She supports Capote, but always tells him the truth, even when he doesn’t want to hear it. The tremendous Chris Cooper plays the state investigator, a straight-laced lawman who dislikes Capote at first but eventually succumbs to his charms. And of course, one of my favorite actors of all time, Bruce Greenwood, plays the writer Jack Dunphy with whom Capote had a relationship with to the end of his life. Lesser known are the murderers themselves. Mark Pellegrino had been primarily a television actor for years, but his role here propelled him into more film work, and Clifton Collins Jr. as Perry Smith has benefitted in the same way.

The film earned five Academy Award nominations. In addition to Keener’s nomination and Hoffman’s win, the film was nominated for best picture and best director for Bennett Miller. Also recognized was writer-actor Dan Futterman for his screenplay. Disappointing to me, however, was the lack of recognition for art direction by Gord Peterson. Most of those nominations go to costume dramas because of the extensive work needed to create realistic sets. But this is an historical drama as well, and to my mind it’s every bit as difficult recreating the early sixties atmosphere not only in the rural Kansas neighborhoods, but the New York salons as well. The film score by Mychael Danna, while not particularly memorable, is nevertheless haunting and adds to the atmosphere of the piece. It’s a beautiful looking film and creates an atmosphere that not only mirrors the seriousness of the crimes, but the inner life of the protagonist. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Capote is, quite simply, brilliant.

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