Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote.
Every year it seems that at least one person wins an Oscar for so successfully immersing themselves into a role that their performance transcends the faults of the movie in which they're starring. Recent examples include Charlize Theron in Monster and Jamie Foxx in Ray. Both performances were stellar, but the same could not be said about the movies themselves. To that list you can now add Phillip Seymour Hoffman in this year's Capote.
Hoffman buries himself in the role of the famous New York writer and social gadfly of the 1950s and 60s. His voice, his mannerisms and even the way he carries himself are all slavishly devoted to recreating Truman Capote. It's a masterful performance.
It's too bad that the movie itself is overly long, dull and virtually colorless apart from the main character. The faults of the movie are amplified by the fact that apart from a few of the minor characters, everyone in the film is virtually unsympathetic, including and especially, Capote himself.
Rather than a full on biography, this movie details the writing of Capote's most successful and last book, the true-crime story "In Cold Blood". It begins with his discovery of a story in the New York Times about the murder of a Kansas family, follows him as he travels to Kansas with his assistant Harper Lee (Keener) -- who would go on to her own success with the publication of "To Kill a Mockingbird" -- where he learns the details of the crime, and then continues on through the trial and eventual execution of the murderers.
Not being a Capote scholar, I have no idea of the accuracy of this film. I can tell you that according to it, Truman Capote was a vain, selfish bastard who would use anyone to get what he wanted. He lies to nearly everyone to learn the details of the crime, most especially to the murderers themselves, whom he pays for a lawyer to get a stay of execution, not out of compassion, but so that they can stay alive long enough for him to learn the details of the case. After he learns all he can, he impatiently waits with his publisher for their execution so that his book will have a proper ending.
In between research trips to cinematically bland Kansas, the movie highlights a few moments of Capote in New York. At parties he continuously name drops all of the celebrities that he knows. "I was in Marilyn's apartment looking at her Matisse paintings," he tells one group of party goers, "and eventually I had to tell her that two of them were hanging upside down." The snippets of his high-life in New York, had they been told in full, would certainly have made for a more entertaining film than this one.
For sheer acting ability, Hoffman deserves a great deal of credit, and if he isn't at least nominated for an Oscar it will be an act of sheer robbery. It's only too bad that the movie itself couldn't live up to the example of which he sets.
Photos © Copyright Sony Pictures Classics (2005)