Opens Fri Oct 21
Capote, predictably enough, is about Truman Capote—the film follows the writer during the creation of In Cold Blood, a nonfiction novel derived from Capote's deep investigation of a Kansas family's murder. While In Cold Blood made Capote a household name, the process of writing it distressed him so much that he never completed another work.
Also predictably enough, the critics responding to a high-class biopic like Capote have been doing so with acclaim and praise. But while four-star reviews abound, many carry undercurrents of resentment about Philip Seymour Hoffman's remarkable performance as Capote. (My guess? They're just jealous because they're all writers, and they secretly want to be Truman Capote.)
One consistent complaint—that Hoffman "overpowers" the picture, a criticism most notably enunciated by J. Hoberman of the Village Voice—is overly simplistic. Would the film be more successful if Capote's presence comfortably fit the characterless requirements of a blockbuster joyride? The director and the actors do well to offer a complicated emotional portrait, not a caricature. I'm sure it doesn't help that the film isn't set up "properly"; it lacks both a smooth narrative and an egalitarian dispensation of screen time between actors. But actually, all of this is to director Bennett Miller's credit—it would've been much easier (and much less interesting) to reduce Capote's life to jaunty Hollywood fluff.
Another criticism—this from Dan Callahan from the online Slant Magazine—is that the film supposedly glosses over the homoeroticism of Capote's relationship with Perry Smith, the incarcerated murderer (Clifton Collins Jr.) who Capote visits to gather material for his novel. Now, honestly: Just because Capote was gay, does that require the director to abolish tension and uncertainty in favor of overt sexual proclamations? Besides, ample homoeroticism comes through in the subtle dynamic created between Truman and Perry; it exists, but only for people with the patience required to perceive messages that aren't in the form of a flashy, blatant, or clichéd exposé. And like its sexual subtext, Capote is a film that will reward you with its design and execution, if you're willing to suspend the temptation of hair-trigger judgments that may be provoked by its sometimes difficult complexity. I highly recommend you do so.