So refreshing is it to see an intelligent movie about intelligent people. Phillip Seymour Hoffman proves not only that he’s the best actor of his generation, but that he has effectively inherited the mantle of De Niro and Nicholson. No surprises there. The acting (all around, including work by Chris Cooper, Catherine Keener and Bruce Greenwood) is superb, the direction, editing, and cinematography are all top rate. Likewise, the movie’s art direction is spot-on but, more than that, it heightens our emotional experience of the film.
What keeps Capote from achieving classic status, however, is its screenplay. While good, it fails to really dig deep enough to uproot the conflict between Capote, the literary opportunist and wily journalist, and Capote, the compassionate and sympathetic human being, as he strikes up a rapport with Perry Smith, one of two killers convicted for the murder of a rural Kansas family in 1959. The movie really hones in on Capote, at a literary turning point in his career, going from young New York dynamo towards the more established rank of American writers, and his six-year crucible of writing In Cold Blood.
While his friendship with Harper Lee is well portrayed, it’s his far more complex relationship with Perry Smith that needed some more incisive work. The screenplay gradually gives us the impression of merely going through the paces as Capote visits Smith (and his co-killer Guy Hickock) at Levenworth, and alternates that with his dazzling high-life among the New York literati, the self-styling of his literary myth, and, eventually, his vexation at his inability to finish his novel (because the killers keep getting stays of execution!).
The guilt that Capote ultimately feels once Smith and Hickock meet their fate might’ve been more effectively conveyed if, while Capote is developing his piece, we see more of how he is psychologically manipulating his subject (Smith), how that affects his relationship with his lover, his friend, and his editor at The New Yorker, etc., pretty much everything through the primary layers of Truman’s life. What we get is a tad immaculate and elegant and too dainty for its own good; I’d like to have seen a darker grain course through this movie. Through intertitles that appear before the close of the movie, we learn that Capote never completed another book after In Cold Blood. We can guess that alcoholism and conscience were both key elements that deterred him from assaying another long-form work, but why didn’t the screenplay depict this more persuasively in the body of the film? Still, Capote is one of 2005’s best, a milestone in modern acting, and quite fascinating in any number of ways, particularly its depiction of the minutiae of the writer’s life.
Directed by: Bennett Miller
Written by: Dan Futterman
Cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Chris Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, Bob Balaban