It has come to my attention that I have been writing film reviews for this site for over a year. During that time I have demonstrated a certain tone towards what I think I can write effectively. My history is filled with cult-gems, foreign films, and things that might go under “genre’ films. My Frankenstein’s Monster of a tongue provides an equally different and generally rounded appreciation for film which has continuously accounted for the flippancy that plasters this site. Yet I am always looking for something new, which might mean looking into film that occupies a completely different county then that of my wheelhouse. So tonight I decided to review a film with a cavalcade of awards around its neck and the word “biopic” often used in describing its content. It is an adaption of a famed American writer’s biography; truly so odd compared to my usual selection that it humorously turns 2005’s Capote into the odd-fellow at the cocktail party.
Capote was directed by Bennette Miller, director of the documentary The Cruise and of the recent film “about sports but about sports in an abstract way/setting instead of actually about playing the sport itself” Moneyball. Dan Flutterman adapted the screenplay from author Gerald Clarke’s original biogeography on writer Truman Capote entitled Capote.
The year is a late 1959, and a slimmed down Philip Seymour Hoffman portrays the late writer Truman Capote at a cocktail party; his fluttery (reminding me of one of my older female relatives) slightly mumbled voice, his seemingly inch thick glasses, his hands perpetually holding a cigarette in one and some liquor with lime in the other, and his haughty attitude encapsulate southern born Truman Capote’s presence. Capote is hovering high off his previous work Breakfast at Tiffany’s and engages his fellow cocktail goers in tune. This is truly a writer at the top of his fame. But as time goes on, Capote stumbles upon a Kansas area mass-murder in the paper involving the deaths of a family of four by shot-gun shots to the head. This heightens his interest and he decides to travel from his home in Chicago, Illinois to Holcomb. Kansas with fellow writer (of the soon to be written To Kill a Mocking Bird) Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) to investigate and to write up an article.
Shortly after Capote’s and Lee’s time investigating the people who knew the family, the two killers Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Richard Hickcock (Mark Pellegrino) were apprehended in Vegas. Capote disembarks to see the two up close, and finds himself fascinated by Perry Smith’s actions. Smith demonstrates educated word usage and during the trial is shown to be drawing at an effective level. This convinces Capote that there is more to this case then meets his eyes, and as he tells his editor that he is turning this article into a book, you see the origin of his most successful novel In Cold Blood. From there, Capote spends the next few years interviewing and befriending the two killers (specifically Smith), treating them to an audience like set pieces, believing that all his hard work will pay off in creating a masterpiece of American literature.
While is sounds like a copout to say this, the acting is very effective in Capote. Phillip Seymour Hoffman has already been rightfully praised for role as Capote, with his accurate mannerisms and vanity. Yet as Hoffman was stealing the show, Catherine Keener impressed me in a different way. Harper Lee was one of Capote’s childhood friends and she is a calming foil for Capote’s over-the-top dramatics. She keeps him from floating out into the stratosphere. Clifton Collins Jr. was half of the reason why the Capote/Smith interviews where the best part of this film. He plays Smith as wounded and struggling one moment, then in the next his eyes grow ambitious and holds back anger just as evenly. Just watching his expressions make Capote.
Biopics can allow for detailed portrayals of historical figures, but in a League of Historical Superstars approach to world building. Let me explain; the early scenes where Harper Lee is assisting Truman Capote in a subtle way treated these authors like beautiful royalty. Most of Capote takes place during the early sixties, with all of the chain smoking and liquor drinking that that entails. These two are constantly at parties, living it up as successful writers in New York. It is all so grandiose and lightly overblown that it reminds me that this is an interpretation, an adaption if you will. Some very neat retelling of history can be told like this in film.
Pros: Houses some fantastic portrayals of historic figures that remind me of how effective a Biopic could be when done right. It is engaging and I found myself interested in even simple things like watching Capote write at his typewriter or pour alcohol into some mashed baby food. The care and almost motherly treatment that Capote shows towards Smith creates scenes that I want to see more often in film. It plays the romantic semi-period-piece in an honestly blatant show of wealth.
Cons: As a fellow writer did ascribe to this film’s DVD cover “That man is as white as salt” does denote, this film fits under what I like to call Rich White People’s Life Porn. Just like how Mad Man has its appeal, so does Capote remind me just how white centric a history based film must be to appeal to a drama audience. This is disheartening but rather true; this sixties’ look almost comes off like the decade equivalent of a harlequin novel for a certain lifestyle.
Capote was released by Sony Pictures Classics, the film copy that I reviewed for some reason was dirty and spotty at times; to the point that I was holding my breath for a cigarette mark. This is not acceptable for a release like Capote. It is just nice to see that I can appreciate and discern film on the same level for a work like Capote that I do with anything else, something that I have a hard time seeing in many other written or audio based film criticism. In the end you judge on merit, not on undesired or undignified themes or tones.