Feb. 27, 2012

filmsgraded.com:
Capote (2005)
Grade: 55/100

Director: Bennett Miller
Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr.

What it's about. An autobiographical film about author and celebrity Truman Capote, set during the years (late 1959 to 1965) that he researched and wrote his best known book, "In Cold Blood."

Capote, fresh from the literary triumph "Breakfast at Tiffany's", learns of the Clutter family massacre in an obscure Kansas farm town. The family of four was bound and shot following a home invasion and robbery. Capote's fascination with the crime grows further after meeting the two jailed suspects, Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Hickock (Mark Pellegrino).

Capote bonds quickly with Perry, and decides to write a book about the two killers and their crime. Like Perry, Capote also had a troubled childhood, and was a drug addict. (Perry's drug was aspirin, Capote preferred hard liquor.) Capote, an open homosexual, may or may not be in love with Perry, but he is unquestionably using him as a lever to greater fame and fortune.

Once Capote has mostly finished the book, however, he can't publish it until he can add the final chapter with its tale of the two killers at the gallows. Capote hopes for their hanging and suffers from guilt as a consequence. We are to believe that Capote was haunted by the fallout for the rest of his life, but he wasn't. In contradiction to the film's epilogue, he continued to write and publish until his alcoholism finally did him in.

Early scenes feature Kansas detective Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) and Capote's friend and research partner Harper Lee (Catherine Keener). Lee has just finished her first novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird," but it had not yet become famous at the time of the Clutter massacre. Later scenes include Capote's employer, New Yorker editor William Shawn (Bob Balaban).

How others will see it. Capote was a critical sensation. Philip Seymour Hoffman won Best Actor for his impersonation, and the film picked up four other Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress (Keener).

Although hardly a blockbuster, the movie returned many multiples of its fairly low budget. Today, Capote has high user ratings at imdb.com. Interestingly, the highest grades are from males under 18 (8.3) and women over 45 (8.0). The demographic that gives the lowest grade are men 30-44, who may be annoyed by the nasal voice of Hoffman as Capote.

Most folks who like the movie cite Hoffman's method performance. It is debatable how difficult it actually may be to affect a high voice and develop an impersonation, but Hoffman, as in prior roles, has shown that his ability to promote himself through excess performance is perhaps the trait he shares most with the real-life Truman Capote. One thing Hoffman can't be is shorter. Capote was 5' 3", Hoffman is six inches taller.

How I felt about it. Capote is competent and watchable. One can even say that it is well made. But I didn't like the movie. For example, Harper Lee's role is exaggerated because she became a famous author with a celebrated book.

A more useful criticism is that Perry Smith seems much more intelligent than he could ever have been in actual life. Smith and Hickock were so dumb that they made purchases with Clutter checks after the murders. It is also irrelevant whether or not Smith would describe the killings in detail to Capote. Capote, who had access to the photos and notes from the crime scene investigation, knew exactly how the Clutter family died. Once Smith and Hickock were hung, Capote could write whatever he wanted to about what went down in the unfortunate farm house that night and claim it to be testimony given to him by Perry.

At any rate, this movie is not about the two killers. The film In Cold Blood, based on the Capote book, had already covered that ground. Instead, Capote is about its title subject, the alcoholic homosexual artist with a grating voice who uses two ordinary murderers to successfully promote his career as an author, then wallows in guilt over having done so.

The problem is, Capote likely had little if any remorse about Smith and Hickock swinging from a rope. They deserved it. The supposed pathos of Capote is strictly an invention of director Miller.

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