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Startling Hoffman Performance Emblazons Intense Treatment of Capote's Life-Changing Episode

Author: Ed Uyeshima from San Francisco, CA, USA
24 December 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Although he was a celebrated author, I have to admit my initial familiarity with Truman Capote came from his frequent appearances during the 1970's on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson, as well as his silly appearance as duplicitous millionaire Lionel Twain in Neil Simon's 1978 "Murder by Death". Capote's effete manner and often patronizing comments (e.g., he opined that all actors were basically stupid) made such a strong impression on me that it was not until much later that I realized he wrote such gems such as "Breakfast at Tiffany's", "The Grass Harp", "The Thanksgiving Visitor", and of course, his seemingly atypical masterwork, "In Cold Blood". It is the intensive research and writing of this latter work, a self-proclaimed "non-fiction novel" published to great acclaim in 1965, which is the basis of this well-crafted though sometimes slowly paced movie.

For those who have not read "In Cold Blood" or seen the stark 1967 film adaptation directed by Richard Brooks, the true-life story focuses on Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, a pair of drifters who break into the home of a Kansas farm family in November 1959 based on a rumor that they had $10,000 stashed away. Upon discovering that the family had no money on hand, Smith and Hickock systematically killed the four members of the family. First-time director Bennett Miller recreates much of the book's plot, including the gory crime, within the context of the movie. On a broader level, this film focuses on Capote's journey of over four years in chronicling the story until the inevitable ending, and in the meantime getting to know the killers intimately, especially the more enigmatic Smith. Actor Dan Futterman, familiar from his guest turns on "Will and Grace" and "Sex in the City", has written a delicately balanced screenplay that highlights the contradictory forces with which Capote was grappling in getting his story on paper.

Although Miller's direction and Futterman's script are both strong for rookie efforts, the key to the film's effectiveness lies in the performances. In a startling transformation, Philip Seymour Hoffman inhabits Capote from the most subtle mannerism to his inner soul. Always a fine character actor, Hoffman brings his dead-on impersonation to a level of consciousness that exudes just the right shadings of narcissism, vulnerability and self-destruction. From the snippets of Capote regaling cocktail party guests in Manhattan with his stories to his useless wardrobe name-dropping in Kansas, there is no question in Hoffman's performance that Capote is a man in love with himself. As author Harper Lee, Capote's closest confidante and research partner on the killings, the always watchable Catherine Keener unaffectedly presents the sturdiness of her plain-spoken character, and their close, painfully honest relationship is believable.

The other striking performance is provided by Clifton Collins Jr., who brings out the alternating coldness and vulnerability in Smith, especially as his character naively and desperately comes to regard Capote as his friend. The prison cell scenes between Hoffman and Collins have an intriguing, disturbing charge that subconsciously seems to point to the homo-erotic nature of their relationship. Smaller roles are filled expertly – Chris Cooper in familiar territory as Sheriff Alvin Dewey and Bruce Greenwood as Capote's patient lover, author Jack Dunphy – though their scenes feel truncated compared to the rest of the story. In fact, the film feels rushed toward the end as Capote is obviously deeply affected by the events and his own culpability in the killers' fate. I only wish there was a greater sense of a denouement to the film, but regardless, the film is certainly worth seeing for Hoffman's masterful performance.

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One of the best films of 2005....utterly intriguing!

Author: Daithi O Ghiairbhealamh from United States
10 December 2005

I have to say that with all of the glitzy glamy movies that Hollywood has been putting out lately it was a rather pleasant surprise to leave the cinema with something to ponder other than my disappointment. Capote, it turns out, is a very engaging movie even for those with only a passing interest in the author or literature of the 20th century. The story is very obviously character-driven rather than being a pure historical/biographical film- something which I think made it so powerful. Likewise the acting was unquestionably superb with Catherine Keener and Cliffton Collins, Jr. in outstanding supporting roles. Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote was simply phenomenal, transcending anything that he's done in the past; watching him bring Capote to life was nothing short of incredible and I can only hope that he at least earns an Oscar nomination for his efforts. Without saying too much about the actual plot and spoiling it for those who have yet to be initiated into the fascinating world of Truman Capote so to speak, I would like only to say that it was well paced. Unlike most recent movies, the audience is allowed to savor the various revelations of the film and sit with the conflicting and sometimes uncomfortable emotions that they precipitate. Most recent films that I've seen drag you clumsily along with needless plot twists, never allowing any of things you witness to really sink in. Capote, on the contrary, allows its characters to coalesce carefully and to a large extent naturally, and one really gets a strong sense of the emotional and psychological make-up of these intriguing figures. This in turn also brings life the creative process behind the ground-breaking book which is at the heart of the whole story. The film penetrates the often romanticized world of the artist (in this case a novelist) making it very accessible and "real" to outside audiences- not something many other feature films of late can claim to have done (aside perhaps from the Hours). Overall, Capote is a superlative film, the likes which haven't been seen in a while. All I can say is that I hope there is more to come- Hollywood please take note!! :)... In my opinion, Capote is easily one of 2005's best movies.

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Good movie

Author: linoevgueni from Vancouver, Canada
4 December 2005

Capote is one of those movies that become more enjoyable if you are already familiar with what is about to happen on the screen. This movie is based on a book, which is based on the life of Truman Capote at the time he was researching and writing a non-fiction novel called In Cold Blood. So, there you go. The more you know about Capote and his books and his friends and his friends' books and some movies based on those books the more interested you might become in watching this film.

The nice thing about this movie is that it does not follow the biopic formula, which is basically this one: we meet a great man at the peek of his career and then flashback to his troubled childhood. We then get to see his teenage years, his first marriage, etc., until the day he dies. Capote only offers a few years in Capote's life, but it is written in a way that allows us to understand a lot about this man's past.

Everyone is saying that Philip Seymour Hoffman must get at least an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Capote. I agree. This actor has always been excellent. You might remember him from some small roles in movies such as Scent of a Woman, Boogie Nights, Happiness, Flawless, Punch Drunk Love, etc. He transforms himself in every one of these films and, even when the movies he is in are not that great (Flawless, for instance) his performance makes them watchable.

When the movie begins, Capote is already a recognized fiction writer. He decides to go to a small town where a family has been murdered. His idea is to write a non-fiction novel on how that small community is dealing with such a horrible crime. However, once he meets the murderers he realizes that they are not very different from him. He spends lots of time talking to one of them. He learns that this guy's horrible childhood is something Capote can easily relate to. And yet, one guy became a murderer and the other one a writer.

Capote has money and some power and he can help these murderers to get better lawyers. However, he also wants to finish his non-fiction novel and, what better way of ending it than with the execution of the assassins? I believe the screenplay is very well written. We get a very good idea of who Capote was: how he adored being adored, how he would even pay people to say nice things about him, how he loved being the center of attention at parties, how he was so selfish that he couldn't even enjoy his best friend's success.

This is one of those "slow" films. No one chases anyone, there is not a lot of suspense and the violence is handled with taste. Also, if English is not your first language, you might have some trouble understanding the dialog from some of the characters (I did).

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Almost a perfect experience

Author: bernicehamel from United States
3 December 2005

This movie is stunning from beginning to end; however, I have voted to give it a 9 rather than a 10, because there were a few minutes somewhere in the middle when the exquisite tension slowed down or dragged a bit. But perhaps I'm being overly critical, because all in all this is a work of art. The writing, the direction, the visuals, the pace, the editing, all the performances, even the background sounds combine and result in a brilliant work, a total experience for the viewer--if a bit scary here and there. Regarding the lead performance, words are inadequate to describe Hoffman's "reincarnation" of Truman Capote. Too bad the real Capote could not have lived to see it, because he would have asked, "Is that how I really look and sound?" This reincarnation is truly eerie, but once the viewer becomes adjusted to it, we can go with the flow. ....I remember reading the book "In Cold Blood" when it was a best-seller, and now I feel compelled to find a copy on my bookshelf or otherwise rush out to the library or bookshop to grab a copy and reread it. Then I want to see the movie again.

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Good acting

Author: cups429 from United States
30 November 2005

Calling Truman Capote the gay writer is not necessary now. I think the fact that he was a alcholic was a very imortant part of his life and people do not refer to him as the writer with a drinking problem why should the refer to him as the gay writer. I think that it was a sin the way that this film was distributed. I had to search for it . Film is about the writing of the book not his life. If you didn't know that Jack was his partner then you wasted your time watching the movie. As the old saying goes we tell jokes we don't explain them. Acting is fine. Supporting actors and actress were right on the money. The ending was more dramatic in the movie in Cold Blood because you were able to get closer to the Perry character. Or maybe I was younger and more effected.

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A Fascinating Character Study

Author: (majic-5) from United States
25 November 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

At first glance, Truman Capote is easy to caricature as an effete, liberal, New York snob of a writer. He had a soft, high voice. He lisped. His mannerisms were feminine. His first book, Breakfast at Tiffany's (based loosely on his relationship with Marilyn Monroe) is the sort of lightweight matter that would make you pigeonhole him as a minor author. But as Phillip Hoffman's masterful portrayal shows, Capote was much more complex. He was capable of being a warm, caring man and a manipulative careerist, frequently at the same time. His writing skills were first-rate, and he founded a literary genre than many have explored since his time.

The scenes where Capote interviews and bonds with one of the killers, Perry Smith, are extraordinary in their subtlety and depth. The two men mesh like the negative and the print of the same photograph. Capote uses their common background both to give Smith genuine moral support and to extract the particulars of his life and heinous crime that made In Cold Blood a blockbuster. From Smith's end, he uses the relationship to get a better lawyer for an appeal and fill the desperate void of loneliness within him.

Unfortunately for Smith, Capote holds the upper hand. To give his book a solid ending, he needs the specifics of the violence that took place that fateful night of the murder. He also needs Smith and his partner executed. He pushes Smith's buttons intuitively and expertly, alternately radiating warmth and professional hardness in order to crack Smith open for descriptions of the bloodletting. As the movie progresses, Hoffman's mounting anguish over the conflict between supporting Smith and pursuing his own agenda became both compelling and repellent. I wanted to shake Capote and tell him that gaining his objective would ultimately damage him. Evidently, it did. Capote never finished another full-length novel (although he twice won the O. Henry Memorial Short Story Prize), and he died from complications of substance abuse at age 59.

The movie is not without flaws. Between the Capote-Smith interview scenes, the movie drags. The sub-plot involving Capote's relationship with his lover never gains traction. And his friendship with Lee Harper (author of To Kill a Mockingbird) serves only to provide another perspective on Capote himself. But these are forgivable flaws in light of two of the best performances of 2005.

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Pristine, note-perfect minimalistic film-making

Author: storysplicer from United States
25 November 2005

I normally steer clear of films that reek of Oscar, but this turned out to be far more than a parlor trick by the able impersonator Hoffman. He and the movie plumb the very depths of America's dark soul. We learn how high a price Capote paid for his persistence in hunting down the story of this infamous Midwestern massacre, and how far he went to see his masterpiece through. Every performance deserves an award, the technical aspects are beyond reproach, the storytelling and script are clear as a bell without an unnecessary moment. But most breathtaking of all is the way Hoffman portrays Capote's unshakable faith in his own genius.

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Philip Seymour Hoffman must get the Oscar!

Author: poetvox from Buena Vista, Virginia
25 November 2005

I first noticed PSH in his small but pivotal role in "Scent of a Woman." He was so brilliant that I couldn't take my eyes off him...and this is coming from a lifelong Al Pacino worshipper.

PSH is at the peak of his powers in "Capote." I grew up watching the real Capote appear on TV talk shows, and PSH simply nails him. I hope everyone remembers that Truman Capote was a small, waif-like man. PSH is anything but, and yet he manages to convince you that he is a delicate, gay man. I defy anyone to find a flaw in this performance.

I'm predicting an Oscar nomination, and, if there is any justice, the Oscar will go to...Philip Seymour Hoffman!

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Great Acting - Slow Moving

Author: iohefy-2 from Charlotte, NC
18 November 2005

I eagerly went to see Capote as I had heard how great the acting was. Philip Seymout Hoffman was Capote himself, and did an outstanding job in his portrayal of Capote. I could not believe how well he carried the role, with the speech and actions. The whole cast was excellent and especially Clifton Collins Jr. who played one of the killers. The only objection I found with this wonderful film was it was very slow moving and seemed at times to drag out somewhat. If you want to see an outstanding performance and not mind it dragging at times, it is worth the price of admission. Go see this one. There should be some awards for Hoffman when Acadmey Awards are given out.

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Outstanding Character Study

Author: akavar from New Jersey, United States
11 November 2005

By now there has been so much said about how great Philip Seymour Hoffman portrayed Capote in this movie, that it almost seems like hype. However, I found that Mr. Hoffman fully lived the Capote character and I admit to being transported back to my memory is as a child watching Truman Capote on the Johnny Carson and other talk shows. Having seen Mr. Hoffman in numerous other roles over the last 10 years, I firmly believe that this is amongst his absolute best work. I have always liked Mr. Hoffman and I feel this is at minimum Oscar nomination, if not Oscar award winning, material.

It can be very difficult for an actor to portray an iconic historical figure with believability. When I watched Leonardo DiCaprio portraying Howard Hughes in Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator", I found myself thinking several things. At times I actually thought I was truly viewing Howard Hughes. At other times I thought I was seeing Leonardo DiCaprio portraying Howard Hughes. And other times all I saw was Leonardo DiCaprio and I was saying to myself "He's not even portraying Howard Hughes". At no time during "Capote" did I ever feel that I was not seeing Truman Capote on screen. My commendations to Mr. Hoffman on such great work.

As to the movie itself, it was an excellent portrayal of an artist caught up in the subject of his work. Because of Mr. Capote's intense interest in his subject, he became extremely personally involved with the criminals. This intense involvement eventually lead to Mr. Capote's total destruction as an artist. Contrast, the character of Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" with the Perry Smith character from "In Cold Blood". The emotional involvement and emotional identification that Mr. Capote had with Perry Smith caused him to cease to be able to function as an artist, and eventually caused an early death for Mr. Capote. Mr. Capote vacated the light fluffy world of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and journeyed to the stark grim world of murder on the high plains. He made this journey physically, emotionally, and most importantly, artistically. The grimness of what really happens to innocent people, and the consequences for those were who perpetrate crimes on these innocent people was something that Mr. Capote could not avoid experiencing in a visceral manner. The acceptance and true understanding of this insight into the human psyche destroyed Mr. Capote.

The moving portrayal and its associated undercurrents was portrayed in a manner that most people should be able to understand. The movie is about an extremely violent crime and the psychology of what happens to the writer documenting the criminals following the crime. The violence is portrayed in a sensitive manner, because it needs to be there. We have to understand what actually happened, but thankfully, where spared from any sensationalism. This after all, is a study of the various characters involved, not a history rendition of the crime. This character study was written and directed in a very artful manner, and I believe we could see some Oscar nominations for the various other artists involved with the production of this movie.

Overall I would rate this movie as a must see for this year. Do not wait for it to come out on DVD. Go and see it in the theater.

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