In one of the year's most astonishing performances as diminutive author Truman Capote, Philip Seymour Hoffman catapults from stalwart charactor actor to true movie star, with a fascinatingly detailed portrayal of one of America's more complex celebrities.
By LESLIE (HOBAN) BLAKE
Is there nothing Philip Seymour Hoffman can't play? From sweaty masturbator ("Happiness") to pudgy drag queen ("Flawless"), depressed gasoline huffer ("Love, Liza") or geeky high school teacher ("25th Hour"), he's even played another larger than real-life writer gonzo journalist Lester Bangs ("Almost Famous").
Hoffman represents the very best of the new breed of actor, who (like at least one other early Oscar contender, David Straithairn ("Good Night and Good Luck," also seen at the 2005 NYFF) originally trained for the stage, but is equally at home performing on the big screen.
|Directed by: Bennett Miller.|
Written by: Dan Futterman.
Adapted from the book "Capote: A Biography" by: Gerald Clarke.
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Chris Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, Bob Balaban, Amy Ryan, Mark Pellegrino, Allie Mickelson, Marshall Bell, Araby Lockhart.
Cinematography: Adam Kimmel.
Edited by: Christopher Tellefsen.
Related links: Official site
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New York Film Festival 2005|
Still, nothing in his previous roles could fully prepare us for his stunning and total immersion into the whiny, aging enfant terrible that was Truman Capote at the 5'3" height of his powers. Those powers peaked during his six-year odyssey into the American heartland a foray into investigative journo-fiction that produced "In Cold Blood," his most successful as well as his last hit book.
Already on staff at the New Yorker under legendary editor William Shawn, in 1959 Capote was searching for a topic to write about. Like some primordial antecedent of the fact-based "Law & Order" franchise of true-crime stories, he spied an article in the New York Times that would, as he predicted, change the nature of fiction in our time and forever.|
However melodramatic this sounds, it did happen that way which only goes to prove how much stranger truth is than fiction. The article chronicled the brutal murder of the entire Clutter family in their Holcomb, Kansas, home, quickly followed by the arrest of two vagrants, Perry Smith and "Dick" Hickok.
While in Kansas, Capote, a fiction writer by nature, committed a journalist's cardinal sin he got involved with his subjects. He actually became enamored of one, the darkly sinister Smith a star-making role, first for Robert in Richard Brooks' original black-and-white adaptation of the novel, and now for Clifton Collins Jr.
Roger Ebert's otherwise-glowing 1968 review mentions that Paul Newman and Steve McQueen were Brooks' first choices. Imagine what that film might have been! Ebert continues: "Another of Brooks' mistakes, I think, was his decision to write a liberal reporter [Paul Stewart] into the script. This figure obviously represents Capote. He hangs around during the last half of the film, tells about Death Row, narrates the hangings and provides instant morals about capital punishment. He is useless and distracting. Brooks should either have used Capote himself or no one."
A wise suggestion, and one heeded by documentarian Bennett Miller ("The Cruise") and actor and novice-screenwriter Dan Futterman. Armed with the latter's first script ever, based in large part on the 1988 best-selling "warts and all" Capote biography by Gerald Clarke, the duo eventually seduced Hoffman into playing Capote, himself a serial manipulative seducer.|
Capote's seduction list includes his long-suffering friend, novelist Harper Lee (a lovely sardonic performance by Catherine Keener), his longtime lover Jack Dunphy (a subdued Bruce Greenwood) and the long arm of the law, Kansas City Sheriff Alvin Dewey (the always dependable Chris Cooper) as well as the killer, Smith.
Capote's seduction of Dewey through his social-climbing wife is a template for his investigative methods: Find out what the subject wants and then give it to them. In Mrs. Dewey's case, it was a window into gossip about a social class she could only read about. In Smith's case, it was to be understood and perhaps loved. In return, each provides the info or access Capote wants.
First-time feature filmmaker Bennett hits all the requisite marks, both of time and place, while Hoffman provides a scalpel-clean dissection of Capote's needy deviousness, as he uses everyone and everything to his own ends. In the dichotomy between Capote's feelings for Smith (only hinted at in 1968) and his knowledge that Smith must die for his book to be published, the actor bares the writer's tortured soul. His fearless portrayal allows us to see the lonely, loveless monstre sacré beneath the sophisticated bonhomie and wit.
|OCTOBER 13, 2005|
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