PSA: Capote (2005), or In Cold Intentions

10 02 2009
This is surprisingly enough how Phillip Seymour Hoffman dresses in his free time...

This is surprisingly enough how Phillip Seymour Hoffman dresses in his free time...

It’s the PSA, everybody! Welcome to another installment of movies that make me either shiver with delight or cringe with embarrassment. Either way, you guys need to know about this stuff. This was such an interesting movie, and here’s a big reason why for me. Have any of you noticed the audacious yet boring strategy every single writer or director seem to take concerning a biopic? Every biopic seems the same, whether it is an author, a musician, an actor, or historical figure. It begins with a glimpse of the person at the height of their success (or failure, depending on the individual), and then we are immediately thrown back to their childhood, where something happened that changed them irrevocably. Then success slowly comes to him as he cultivates whatever skill he has. But as he rises, he realizes he cannot handle the pressure of fame and prosperity, and has no choice but to fuck up his life with bad choices. Does this sound familiar to you? Well, forget that. This is no ordinary biopic. By not trying to encapsulate an entire lifetime’s worth of lessons learned, Capote shows us a fuller, more flesh and blood person by not rushing things, and showing only one very important event in this character’s life.

This film is based on parts of the book “Capote: A Biography” by Gerald Clarke. It follows, of course, the life of flamboyant Southern writer Truman Capote. But this movie in particular follows his descent into darkness during the process of writing his most famous work, “In Cold Blood”. It all begins with a writing assignment for a newspaper. Truman reads about a grisly murder in Kansas in the the New York Times. Intrigued, he tells the editor of The New Yorker that he will go down to investigate and write a piece on it. He travels down to the scene of the crime, bringing his childhood friend, fellow author Harper Lee, with him. There he wows the simple townsfolk, regaling them with stories of Hollywood and the big city. As he does this, he brings himself closer to the details of this crime, a multiple homicide on an entire family by two robbers in the family’s own home. Eventually, he works his way to the killers themselves, both then locked up and awaiting trial. He starts interviewing these men, in particular Perry Smith. What begins as a simple question-and-answer becomes something more intimate, something more probing than both of them would even fully realize. In this line of questioning, the two find kindred spirits within one another, and this small newspaper article grows slowly into a gritty Kansas snowball that Capote would see turned into not only a novel, but his own masterwork. But at what cost to himself and others will this book see the light of day?

This is such an intriguing movie. It really probes into man’s dark nature. Capote and Smith are not clean individuals, and their demons overrun the movie with a monstrous force. The story is focused on an exquisite balance of what we are and what we want people to believe we are. Hurt is hidden if it is shameful, words are buried if they wound somebody, and things that can never be taken back are never spoken of again. And this is only five years of Capote’s life. We did not need to go all the way back to his harsh childhood, his rise to prominence, or his decline. Instead, it takes this pivotal moment in this man’s life and uses it to make a guess at this man’s very essence, his very soul.

First-time feature director Bennett Miller captures the lonesomeness of Kansas to a T. He gives long, lingering shots to far-away trains, as if inside them there might lie a cure to the isolation. It is a very wistful style of direction that I cannot wait to see more of. Mychael Danna scored the movie, and it is a wonderfully minimalist score that I hope to own one day. The small strains of a single bow upon a violin can really evoke so much, and this is a soundtrack that people should have to understand what it is to be truly alone. Check it out, folks!

But with this myth of a man must come a mythic actor. Phillip Seymour Hoffman IS Truman Capote. He sells it 100%. I couldn’t even tell you it is an actor during some of the scenes. It is a truly impressive outing for this veteran performer who has given this generation a number of its greatest characters. He deserves every single award that he received for this one, especially the Academy Award. He bared himself in a way that is hard for many of us, including myself, to imagine, and I think that this was by far his greatest performance as an actor. But the man who played Perry Smith, Clifton Collins Jr. deserves some mention as well. He had to act on the same level as Hoffman and bare himself just as much. If the movie had been called Smith instead of Capote I still would have loved every minute of it. Give him some more leading roles and I think this man will find himself with a number of award nominations.

In the end, this is a dark, heartbreaking drama about actions and consequences, a story about how what we do cannot go away easily, if the act is in a public paper or even if it lies only in the eyes of one single individual. it is subtle, emotional, and one of the best films of this decade. I highly recommend it. There is nothing I do not like about this film. I have to give it the thumbs way up. Capote gets 10 flamboyant Southern writers out of 10! Watch it!

See you tomorrow, everyone, for the epic Alexander!