Monday, September 12, 2005

TIFF 2005: "CAPOTE" (Review)

(Special Presentations) USA, 110 minutes
Directed by Bennett Miller
Screenplay: Dan Futterman, based on the novel by Gerald Clarke
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Chris Cooper

Setting itself apart from most traditional “biopics,” “Capote” focuses on writer Truman Capote’s journey in writing his seminal work “In Cold Blood,” about the brutal murders of a Kansas family by a pair of thieves in 1959. Between Futterman’s caustic screenplay, Miller’s focused direction and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s uncannily eerie performance, this is one of the best examples of what the “based on a true story” genre can be.

Capote finds a small article in the New York Times about the murders of the Clutter family in their rural Kansas farmhouse and decides he wants to examine this further for an article for the New Yorker. However, once he infiltrates the town of Holcomb, winning over sheriff Alvin Dewey (the always solid Chris Cooper) with the help of friend and soon-to-be-famous-author Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), he finds the story to be much more than a magazine article can contain. As he delves deeper and gets to know not only the townspeople but the murderers – most notably Perry Smith (Clifton Collins, Jr.) – he changes in such profound ways that he will never be the same.

Much has been made of Hoffman’s nailing of Capote – much like last year’s fanfare for Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles – but it’s more than just a good impression that makes the performance great. It carries the movie, and Hoffman captures many of Capote’s darker aspects in sometimes chilling detail. The author’s manipulation of people and events as the story unfolds, as well as its ultimate debilitating affect on him, provides a fascinating insight into the man that a simple by-the-numbers, event-driven telling of his life never could. By examining this crucial period of Capote’s life in detail, we come to know who he was before and after, even if it is in an abstract way. It’s a brilliant approach, rarely used but so effective in its simplicity it’s a wonder it’s not used more often.

"Capote" opens in select cities on September 30th.