Saturday, October 29, 2005

Capote (2005)

Philip Seymour Hoffman showed me in Bennett Miller's Capote why he is an underrated actor. I really only remember Hoffman distinctly in a handful of movie roles, almost all films by P.T. Anderson (Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, and Boogie Nights), but to me, this movie is pivotal for Hoffman. I liked him in Almost Famous and Twister, but I never once got to see Hoffman in the spotlight; he was always off to the side somewhere. But now, he has arrived.

I assume most people read Truman Capote's book In Cold Blood in high school, a book I really enjoyed reading. I can't believe how much of the book I remembered, especially since the movie--a true story about two gunmen who executed a family of four in Kansas in 1959--tracked the book very closely. From what has lasted in my memory, the power of In Cold Blood was it's non-fiction base; some say Capote invented a new genre of literature, something Capote would definitely say so himself. Capote ventured to Kansas as a writer for the New Yorker and found himself with a wealth of material, which over roughly six years accumulated into a book.

Capote (and the audience) develop a strong relationship with Perry Smith, who was one of the murderers on death row, who Capote visited intermittently. Of course, my view of the original book is skewed since I read it awhile ago, but I distinctly remember Perry Smith being a sadder, dumber, more pathetic character, pushed around by his co-conspirator. The Perry Smith of this film is much more composed. But I don't know if this detracts from the film at all, since the actor who plays Smith, Clifton Collins, Jr., does the best acting in the entire film (even better than Hoffman). I sort of remember Collins (who is sometimes called Clifton Gonzales Gonzales) in this great little war film called Tigerland, which was also a great film.

Two smaller things. First, I was a little unimpressed with the lack time given to the other murderer, Dick Hickock. It would have definitely helped for the audience to compare Hickock's demeanor (unapologetic, self-interested) with Smith's, which is much more fragile and introspective. Second, I really enjoyed seeing Catherine Keener in the film, who played Harper Lee, a famous author in her own right who was Capote's friend and research assistant for the book. I really like her, but I was afraid at first that she would not be able to overcome how I remembered her character in Lovely and Amazing, in which she played a lethargic, middle-class bitchy character. She was fantastic in both films.

Although the movie spans the years he wrote his wildly successful book, I am happy the movie was titled Capote, because it was about him as opposed to Smith or Hickock. For those of you interested, I would recommend the 1967 movie In Cold Blood, directed by Richard Brooks, in which Robert Blake plays Perry Smith. For some reason I found that movie to feel much darker since it was made earlier and was about such a brutal murder.

1 comment:

Mad.J.D. said...

Interesting review. I haven't seen Capote yet (I used my LexisNexis-won movie pass to see Saw II), but I have a few comments. I definitely agree that Hoffman is great, but I can't agree that he is underrated. He is an actor's actor, at the forefront of the craft since Magnolia (where he played a part written just for him) and especially since he and his cohort John C. Reilly costarred in Sam Shepard's True West off broadway in 2000, alternating parts from night to night. It's true that he hasn't had a major picture to carry yet (though he's had principal roles in stuff like "Love Liza" and Owning Mahowny (sp?)) so by that measure, I guess you're right. But he's been squarely on the radar--and the recipient of heaps of praise-- for anyone who really follows actors (as opposed to movie stars). His career arc reminds me of another of my favorites, Peter Saarsgard. Man, when is someone going to let that guy carry a movie? Of course, he's so perfect in supporting roles, you almost don't want him to mess up his mojo by playing a starring role.

Anyway, I look forward to seeing Capote. (No doubt it's better than Saw II.) I'm intrigued by the portrayal of Perry Smith that you discuss. I read the book recently, and I'd concur that Dick Hickok is the far more memorable of the two killers. Of course that all must have been colored by Capote's personal feelings for Smith, which I understand to be slightly more than professional. I like what I've seen of Clifton Collins Jr. He was the only decent thing in the abysmal "Mind Hunters" but that's what I get for watching a Renny Harlin movie.

Anyway, thanks for the review. You've sparked my interest in Capote. Of course it will have to wait until after Jarhead, which features a (no doubt excellent) performance by Peter Saarsgard.