Privileged to catch a screening of Bennet Miller’s Capote the other night. I cannot remember the last time I was so disconcertingly enthralled, so self-consciously immersed in a film. I might not’ve made the trip uptown were it not for the recent announcement of the New York Film Festival lineup which includes the work. Philip Seymour Hoffman—storied indie lovable, perennially undervalued, underused, blah, blah, blah—plays the title role.
I am not an avid reader of Truman Capote’s work, nor am I a student of literary history. Until that night, mention of In Cold Blood —title of the work around which the film revolves and the last book the author finished—elicited only vague renderings of literary criticism half-read. Bennett—first-time feature director (not-so-hot off the heels of the Timothy “Speed” Levitch doc The Cruise —if that isn’t a shot out of left field!) has managed an acute, austere portrait of utter and harrowing poignancy. I hesitate to call anything poignant and hope not to for a very long time after this, but fuck it, I’m blogging.
The film, were it less than the success it is, could remain aloft through academy season solely on the power of its players alone. Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper, and Clifton Collins Jr. as inmate Perry Smith give performances worthy of any accolades that come their way. And Hoffman, ripe as he is for the perfect vehicle, has outdone himself. To my knowledge, that’s about as high a compliment as I could give. But to anyone reading this, praising Philip Seymour Hoffman for his acting chops is a waste of words.
Capote manages biopic with only a few years of a life; it felt like the finest qualities of exacting portraiture were recalled here. In comparison, Scorsese’s fly guy seems bathed in fat and excess; somehow unwound on film. Bennett carves a small, harrowing monument to the artist as outsider through examination of Capote’s process as he researches and writes about a pair of murderers and their oft-delayed but ultimately inexorable slide into the hands of capital punishment—the subject of Capote’s “nonfiction novel.” Hoffman, as the dandy, the drunkard, the journalist and eventual friend to one of the killers, crafts one of the most memorable of all beloved and doomed artists to grace silver screens in recent history.
I guess I’m moved enough to write this because I’ve no interest in the biopic as mere biography, loaded as that statement may seem. Call me some kind of romantic, borne of the Kane ethos. But this is great stuff. The potential, as they say.
This is also my goodbye to a summer of delightful treats that did just fine by me, and my hello to the best thing about the start of the fall: The New York Film Festival and some real heavy hitters.
Catch this one.