The most amazing part of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s embodiment of Truman Capote in Bennett Miller’s brilliant new film, Capote, is what is behind his eyes. Yes, the trademark nasal voice, the elegant, crooked stance, the withering form, and even the breathtaking way Capote could command a room are all very near perfection, but it is the more afraid, more vulnerable part of the Capote character that Hoffman so expertly hides just behind his glasses. It is in those moments that glimpses of the real man become clear. It is one of the best performances of the year, and certainly deserving of the Oscar for Best Actor.
Hoffman has long been underrated and ignored by the Academy for reasons unknown. He is always a standout. The Paul Thomas Anderson staple, who was so memorable in The Big Lebowski, Almost Famous and even in Along Came Polly, a throwaway movie with Jennifer Aniston and Ben Stiller notable only for Hoffman’s work as a child star trying to navigate through adult life.
He isn’t limited to playing one type or the other but pours himself into his characters to take whatever shape they require – all the while never losing a microbe of charisma. Now his ability to morph into others and his magnetic persona have fused into the role of the lifetime as Truman Capote.
It is a marvel what he can do. That the Academy has yet to honor him is, well, yet another reason to complain about them.
Capote focuses on the time New York author and gravitational force Truman Capote as he took on the story of a murdered family in Kansas, the murders that would one day make Capote a literary star, Robert Blake a movie star and forever alter the non-fiction genre.
It was such a small event, really, but it caught the attention of Capote, who then glorified it to epic proportions.
Capote decides to visit the scene of the murders and takes his friend and cousin Harper Lee (a marvelously understated Catherine Keener) with him to act as “assistant and bodyguard.” He would need a body guard because he not only sticks out like a sore thumb but likes sticking out – poking silent but visible fun at the ignorance of country folk. Harper Lee, of course, tries to keep to the business at hand, simultaneously taming Capote as well as taking astute notes.
There are so many pivotal, enthralling scenes in the film it’s hard to narrow them down, but one such scene is when Capote calls his longtime lover Jack (played in the film by Bruce Greenwood) and admits quietly that the Kansans don’t want to talk to him, they’d prefer to talk to Harper or Jack, macho people, not the fey and mysteriously eccentric Truman Capote.
While Capote unravels the story of how two killers murdered a quiet, “normal” family in the Midwest, he realizes exactly what he has at his disposal – a muse in shooter Perry Smith (Clifton Collins, Jr.) and a career-making book gathering steam in his head. What he will have to do in order to realize his success is exactly what will end his fondness for Smith. Smith, it turns out, isn’t so innocent, and has hopes of using Capote to make the courts sympathize with him, perhaps spare him the death penalty.
Capote is at once a fascinating look at what it takes for a writer to truly exploit his or her muse as it is a magnificent portrait of Capote himself by the great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Working from a script by Dan Futterman, director Miller (who had no previous experience with features, really) doesn’t quite seem prepared to give his own interpretation of Capote and his intentions, be they honorable or not. Capote was so many things at once – narcissist, novelist, social climber – it would be near impossible to encapsulate him. And why would anyone want to?We are left with our feelings of ambiguousness about what it means for two people who had similar beginnings – mothers who drank and abandoned them – yet, as Capote says so eloquently, one went out the front door and one went out the back. And we are left with Capote’s legacy, one that will be tied, in one way or another to Perry Smith, always.