Well it's fall, that means Oscar season. Which also seems to mean, let's make a biopic designed to garner at least an Oscar nomination or two for acting. This week's biopic is about Truman Capote, and this film's actor crying for an Oscar nomination is Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who's certainly been one of the best character actors of the last decade.
Now the first thing you might think, at least I did, was that under no circumstance would Hoffman look like Capote. Truman was a bit of faint looking little mosquito of a man, whearas Hoffman is not exactly little. So we move on to the next trait of Oscar worthy immitations, and that's the speech. Truman Capote had a very distinct style of speaking, and Hoffman pulls it off. He succeeds admirably, that you get a sense that his wit is that of Truman's. That an anecdote at a party could be just as easily Truman as Hoffman. Part of this is due to the fact that Hoffman improvised much of his cocktail party chatter. It allows him the room to get into Capote.
The glaring physical differences are at once a burden and a benefit. On the one hand we have the somewhat nagging reminder of "that's not Truman". On the other hand we can look at this character not as the source of a biography, but as a regular movie character. No one really remembers what Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) looked like in real life or how she spoke, so no one seems to notice whether or not Keener pulls her role off, and honestly I don't think anyone will really comment on her performance. She compliments Hoffman, and makes a very clear supporting turn, but her acting is nothing to draw attention to her.
The next batch of plus and minuses comes in the structure of the film and the entire genre of the biopic. Capote steers clear of much of the cliches associated with the story of a man's life (as Ray embraced these cliches). There are no childhood flashbacks to Truman the abused, or bewildered child, there is no "now I'm a genius" moments. Instead it is a portrait of a writer in a critical time in his life. He's using people, but they're using him. He recognizes in the killers his own need to make an impression, and they see in him a chance to seem human.
As one might obviously point out, the film of In Cold Blood (1967) is a wonderful companion to this picture, as would the book. This film's time period is the same as that in the film, beginning with the day after the killings, and covering until the final execution of Perry Smith. I was wondering if this would be a whole biography, a story of his life, but it isn't. Recognizing some of the patters of biopics we have certain expectations. When they're not met, we sometimes react with hostility, then with a little reflection can look at the moments and appreciate how they're different.
Capote might garner some attention come Oscar season, and Hoffman might find himself getting that long sought after and deserved Oscar nomination, but I might object. I still find the film deliberate. Perhaps it "tries to hard". It isn't all encompassing, but it tries so hard to show Truman that we're left with nothing to guess about him. We see him as compassionate and manipulative, sober and drunk. I'm not going to recommend the film as a must see of the season. It is an admirable job of a picture, but I think the best performance in the film came from Clifton Collins Jr., the man who played Perry. He shines, particularly because Perry isn't as recognizable, and partially because Collins is still unknown. We believe him as Perry. We see his vulnerability as well as his manipulation. He is a mirror of Truman, but in that strange sort of alternate dimension sort of way.