Clifton Collins Jr.
1 Hr., 55 Mins.
An actor lucky enough to find a role that works as a pure culmination of his versatile talents is a man cinema has been fortunate to find. A role of such caliber only comes but once in a lifetime, as evidenced by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, or Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. Truman Capote is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Hannibal Lecter, Jake LaMotta, Stephen Hawking. It is one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema; it is not just a performance but an embodiment, a resurrection. It reminds us why Hoffman’s premature death is the most tragic loss of a major talent in film as of late.
Truman Capote himself (1924-1984) was also a victim of his own demons. A literary genius, he published his first acclaimed work, the short story Miriam, at the age of 21; he went on to write classic novels such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, maintaining a close relationship with Hollywood in the process. He was a great storyteller, a great party guest, and an even greater of a personality — I recall Lauren Bacall detailing just how fascinating of a figure he was in her memoir, how much Bogie adored spending time with him during the filming of Beat the Devil. His girlish voice, homosexual flamboyance, and immense self-interest was forgivable in a conservative time period because he was so much more larger than life than everyone around him.
The film dramatizing at least a fraction of his life, Capote, is an adept biopic that takes place during the tumultuous years in which the author was writing the seminal In Cold Blood, a true crime novel that told the story of a pair of murderers who heinously massacred a family in rural Kansas. What began as a New York Times article interested in analyzing the effects the murders had on the small town turned into something greater as Capote found himself increasingly compelled to tell a larger tale, eventually becoming so close with the criminals themselves that he even began to fall in love with one of them (Clifton Collins Jr.).
At the heart of the film is Capote’s captivating relationships with To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), his romantic partner; Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood), his editor (Bob Balaban); and one of the murderers, Perry Smith, and the toll the writing of the novel took on his personal life.
While many biopics are so defined by their central portrayal that they forget to make an affecting overarching film, Capote, finely directed by Bennett Miller, is something of an anomaly because it is so excellent; it is surrounded by performances that widen the crevasse In Cold Blood dug up during its conception, and digs deep into its characterizations. Involved individuals such as Lee and Smith are crucial — Lee represents Capote’s life before the book, grounded and intellectual, Smith acting as the detour to his more disturbed self, his writing talents coming second to an eclair of self-doubt and a piling of regret.
Capote’s tug of war of emotions is best shown during and after scenes of him entertaining party guests. With his constant cravings for attention, he is the best partygoer you’ll ever meet, telling one unbelievable story after the next. But soon after you meet a man who appears to consist only of confidence-edged genetics, there is a crash, a moment when he has to confront the person he's become. His love for Smith is the peak of his psychological battle. He doesn’t want to be in love with a murderer, but he can’t help it, and he hates himself for it. He knows the only way he’ll stumble across some sort of closure will be the execution of In Cold Blood’s central figures. Fittingly, In Cold Blood was the last novel he ever published.
As Capote, Hoffman is brilliant. Watch any interview from the writer and you’ll see an original, an eccentric no one in the world could possible emulate. To play him would risk caricaturization. But Hoffman, so detail-oriented and nuanced, becomes this man. Never does his recognizably deep, fatherly voice slip out, his oft prominent mouth-breathing. He is Capote. And even if the film were the not-uncommon kind to pay too much attention to its leading actor, we still would be mesmerized. So it’s a wonder that it also feels so full, so true. A-