Director: Bennett Miller
With: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Runtime: 114 min
Capote is a nuanced study of one of America’s most intriguing and celebrated authors. Director Bennett Miller explores American writer Truman Capote’s fascination with the brutal murder of a Kansas family by two men in the 1960s. Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) develops a growing obsession with the trial and subsequently forms a close friendship with one of the men, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.).
Capote’s friendship with Smith is honestly presented, and the unravelling of the truth behind the murder is thrilling to watch. Capote, however, had an underlying motive: to increase his own literary reputation. Indeed, the author loved celebrity – he coveted attention and was the darling of New York’s literary society. Miller explores, through Capote’s personality, two central aspects of American life: celebrity and an obsession with violence.
The film is visually stimulating. Miller creates a powerfully atmospheric composition, through monotone colours that emphasise the pathos of its subject and leave us locked in Capote’s world until long after it ends. Kansas is presented in an isolated and claustrophobic Texan landscape, resonating American Gothic and, interestingly, contrasting with Capote’s distinctive character.
The film also explores Capote’s close matter-of-fact friendship with Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), the intensely private author of the classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Keener impresses as Lee, bringing to life an intriguing woman and enlivening certain dinner conversations with a fantastic, startling laugh. Miller presents a fascinating and contradictory friendship that greatly affected Capote’s struggles in writing In Cold Blood. It was interesting to see how much influence Lee had on him, and I wish the film could have gone into more depth.
Inevitably, the film rests largely on the intensity of Philip Seymor Hoffman’s performance. He embodies Capote entirely, inheriting all his mannerisms in a passionate and believable performance that leaves us with a true sense of the man, who was not particularly likeable. Hoffman’s true skill emerges through his conquering of Capote’s unusual voice, and one of the best scenes in the film is when Capote gives a reading in front of American critics – it is the voice that we remember.
At first Capote appears to be more about the novel than the author, yet by the end, you emerge with the realisation that the creation of In Cold Blood allows for a detailed reflection; for that is all Miller can hope to achieve in an on-screen reworking of Truman Capote himself, his vivid personality, and his annoying, child-like and sometimes incomprehensible voice. As I watched Capote, I realised that Miller presents a unique vision of America through the eyes of an intriguing man, who changed the face of American literature.