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Jean François Heckel,
Famed writer Truman Capote, southern born and bred but now part of the New York City social circle, is growing weary of his current assignment of writing autobiographical type pieces for the New Yorker. After reading a newspaper article about the just occurred November 14, 1959 cold blooded murders of the Clutter family in their rural Kansas home, Truman feels compelled to write about that event as his next article. So he and his personal assistant Nelle Harper Lee, also a southern born New Yorker and an aspiring writer of her own, head to Kansas to research the story first-hand. Truman hopes to use his celebrity status to gain access to whomever he needs, such as to Laura Kinney, a friend of the Clutter daughter she who discovered the bodies, and to Alvin Dewey, the lead police investigator and also a Clutter family friend. If his celebrity doesn't work, Truman will grease the wheels by whatever means necessary. When the police eventually charge suspects, two young men named Dick ... Written by
Outstanding performance, witty dialog but visually unimaginative -- it will play better on TV
"Capote" is a film with undeniable assets: it's got the best performance by an American actor in the last decade and some of the wittiest dialog in an American film in recent years. Philip Seymour Hoffman's once-in-a-lifetime performance is simply jaw-dropping (and he's aware of it): it's a triumph of vocal and body work, with a huge range (mentally and emotionally), but above all it sparkles with supremely intelligent acting in portraying the lizard man with the 215-point I.Q. and the 1,000,000-point ego.
The film focuses entirely on the circumstances concerning the genesis of Truman Capote's masterpiece "In Cold Blood" (the title that had, of course, a double meaning, as it described both the set of mind of the 1959 Kansas harrowing criminals and of Capote himself in his Machiavellian saga to finally complete his book). The film concentrates on Capote's transformation from lightweight literary wunderkind and jet-set wit to trend-setting, seriously talented writer, depicting the Faustian/Mephistophelian process he goes through as he realizes that, in order to produce his ground-breaking "non-fiction novel" -- which helped consolidate American media's fascination with violence, death and crime -- he has to sink deeply in muddy waters of manipulation, adulation, mendacity, bribery, omission, ultimately having to face the ugliest side of himself, like a modern Dorian Gray. In "Capote", the horrifying Kansas crime, the murderers and the circumstances that led to their execution are the background scenery allowing the filmmakers to question the author's autistic egotism, gargantuan ambition and tortuous, perverse morality (just in case anyone forgets: Capote's novel benefited who, again?)
If "Capote" ultimately impacts less than it could/should, director Bennett Miller is probably to blame. Visually, it's bland and unexciting: it's a real shame to see such an unimaginative handling of such potentially thrilling material. "Capote" has some of the dullest courtroom scenes in movie history (and the competition is high, as we know). And what about those gigantic, paralyzed close-ups? And that static, lifeless camera? The audience goes to see the film pretty much aware that Capote's (and the screenwriter's) wit and Hoffman's performance are the core of it, and no one was asking for an action movie, but did it have to look so bland? Maybe Miller just lacks mileage (this is only his second film); or maybe he's simply not visually oriented, maybe he's an actors' director. Despite the fascinating subject, a great performance and above-average dialog, Miller's "Capote" disappointingly looks like a TV movie.
Apart from those (not trifle) objections, "Capote" is recommended for all of us who thought wit, subtlety and acting excellence had all but disappeared from American films. PS: Richard Brooks' irregular but visually striking 1967 version of "In Cold Blood" is a complementary companion to this one.
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