To begin with, how you feel about Capote the movie will depend almost entirely on how you feel about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of him. Some will find his highly mannered performance to be highly grating, while others will note that that’s how the real Capote looked and sounded.
I fall into the former group. I just couldn’t stomach Hoffmann’s high-pitched whine. I also didn’t care for the breakneck editing, or even the long, tiresome shots of nothing in particular happening. I felt the movie was pretty poorly put together, to be quite frank about it.
Although it’s a biography of the writer, the film covers the time Capote spent researching and writing his magnum opus, In Cold Blood, from his assignment by The New Yorker to cover the legal proceedings to the final publication of his “nonfiction novel,” several years later. The focus is on Capote’s relationship with the murderers of the title, particularly Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.). Capote figures if he gets close to Smith and Dick Hickock, he’ll get information he can use in his book. Is he using the killers, or does he really care for him? You wouldn’t know from a movie whose script has Capote constantly talking about himself, no matter what the topic is. What, you killed four people in their beds? Pshaw, you should hear about my upbringing. And on it goes.
As I said, Hoffman’s performance is quite mannered – some might say flamboyant – and there will no doubt be plenty of you out there who will think he was spot on, quite a show, and all that. And there will be plenty others who think about five minutes of hearing him “talk Capote” would be about four minutes too long.
So on to the others in the cast. Catherine Keener, who’s been so great in movies like Being John Malkovich and The Interpreter, acts circles around Hoffman. Yes, circles. Keener plays novelist Harper Lee, she of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, and she absolutely disappears into the role – with two exceptions, her dazzling, dancing eyes. Keener is superb, clearly deserving of her Oscar nomination. Lee has a pretty good idea of what Capote’s all about, as does his lover, Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood). Chris Cooper is along as the sheriff in charge of the case, and Bob Balaban is Capote’s publisher.
There’s far too much focus on the Wonder That Is Truman Capote for a film that insists on covering only one period in his life. Capote is manipulative, egotistical, and constantly condescending. Not an appealing guy, to be sure. And that’s fine, but we never really get a sense of what he was about, just how this one event affected him.
Interminable and overwrought, Capote is not worthy of its many accolades.