Capote Review

In Bennett Miller's Capote, a compelling biopic which projects the emotionally-complex and artistically-gifted character of Truman Capote onto the silver screen, we finally get a chance to discover just what motivated one of America's finest authors as he was writing his undisputed literary classic In Cold Blood. And the title of Capote's seminal 1966 "non-fiction novel" could indeed be a fitting title to this film, for Miller chooses to shoot his debut feature through a detached lens, observing and never commenting. Truman Capote is presented just as he was: a gifted eccentric, an outward homosexual, a high-pitched, incisive genius. The camera's coldness – or at least its lack of sentimental charm or melodramatic involvement that can be found in other modern biopics – also channels the narrative's dark subject matter. Set during the writing of Capote's In Cold Blood, which was itself written during the case on which it was based, the film chronicles the author's fascination with the nature of killing, and his exploration of what exactly could motivate two men to murder a family in cold blood.

Philip Seymour Hoffman embodies the complex writer with a sense of honesty and understanding that is rarely found in films of this sort. His Oscar nomination is well deserved and it is through Hoffman's delicate and deliberate strokes that the audience is able to unravel Capote's character – after all, even though he was writing about the lives of two men and the deaths of four others, it was himself who he was genuinely exploring. He was a man of unparalleled arrogance, yet his self-pride was perhaps understandable: as this film shows, his talent and artistic tenacity was clear and his friendship with fellow writer Harper Lee (played by Catherine Keener in an Oscar-nominated supporting turn) simultaneously showcases his quiet confidence and self-knowledge that his work was important both for the residents of Holcomb, Kansas but also for America itself. In essence, Capote was a revolutionary and it is fitting that In Cold Blood was a revolutionary piece of literature in its own right.

Sadly, Miller's film is far from revolutionary. Whilst the young director is intelligent enough to realise that the character of Capote should be the main focus of the film (hence why it is called Capote and not In Cold Blood, even though it is set exclusively during the writing of the novel), his direction feels pedestrian at times and he never manages to explore the peripheral themes that surround the fascinating murder case. Luckily, however, Clifton Collins Jr. delivers a fantastic (and Oscar-worthy) performance as Perry Smith, one of the convicted murderers who Capote forms an unlikely bond with. The audience is therefore able to delve into the emotional depths of the case through Collins' extraordinary physical performance – his eyes do most of the talking – but it is a shame that Miller never manages to raise his camera to the surrounding Kansas landscapes and analyse the exterior motives and questions that surround the case. As a documentarian, Miller succeeds in presenting the characters of both Truman Capote and Perry Smith. As a filmmaker, however, he fails in bringing a wider artistic perspective and for that reason his Best Director nomination is undeserved. James Mangold, the director of this year's other big biopic Walk the Line, should have taken Miller's place on the Oscar shortlist for that reason alone.

But, Capote does have undeniable charm and its focus is sharp and detailed. The period setting is perfectly recreated and Miller manages to raise questions about the nature of the writing process, and what exactly it entails to be both a writer and a journalist – or are these two occupations mutually exclusive? The film is perhaps too linear, however, as it merely focuses on a time period of around about six years and never probes into the earlier or later stages of Capote's life, both of which would have made fascinating viewing. Then again, if Miller is able to get to the root of the writer's character in the space of two hours and six years, surely that is perfectly sufficient? Well, yes and no. After the film had ended I certainly had a thorough understanding of Capote himself and the demons which drove him, but then again the man's life was so ambiguous, varied and intriguing that it would have been beneficial to perhaps widen the focus of the narrative to encompass other, subsequent events.


Slightly churlish criticisms aside, Capote is a very engaging and enjoyable film which manages to straddle the notions of fiction and non-fiction in a way that the writer himself would have been proud – on one hand we have a sculptured and detailed biopic, whilst on the other we have a fictional recreation of a horrific mass-murder in quiet, rural American landscapes; a fitting juxtaposition for a man who seemed to be an ambiguous, emotionally-complex, walking paradox.

Overall

8

out of 10

Last updated: 19/04/2018 06:15:53

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