Originally created 11/23/05

Success of 'Capote' hinges on actors' performances

Although there is a murder, a manhunt and a high-profile trial, Capote is a film almost solely about performance.

Certainly, there is a story to be served because In Cold Blood is arguably the most influential piece of nonfiction written in the past 50 years.

The facts, and fictions, of the film, however, are incidental.

The murders, trial and arduous writing process serve as tools, a methodology that allows the film's actors a broad and ever-changing canvas on which they can display their talents.

Central is the character of Truman Capote. Although often remembered as a caricature, the fey, lisping bon vivant who spent the last years of his life living the lie of a writer without ever managing to publish, Philip Seymour Hoffman finds layer after layer in the conflicted storyteller.

Mr. Hoffman's Capote is a writer sure of the story he wants to tell and unsure that he can tell it, a writer removed from the tale but intimately acquainted with its characters.

His performance is a deft and difficult balancing act. In a story without heroes - Capote is a manipulative drunk who befriends a murderer in the name of art - Mr. Hoffman must remain sympathetic and yet careful not to polish away the man's harsh edges. He must convince an audience to feel for Capote, but never quite feel comfortable with him.

Mr. Hoffman accomplishes that by fully inhabiting the man.

His is the sort of near-perfect performance that convinces an audience that what they are seeing is not artifice but actual.

It helps that equally capable actors surround Mr. Hoffman. Clifton Collins Jr., an actor who has been all-but-invisible in dozens of film, turns in a career performance as the charming lost soul Perry Smith, one of the two murderers.

Catherine Keener plays writer Nelle Harper Lee as the conscience of the piece, remaining a controlled, low-key constant that reins in the more melodramatic aspects of the script.

In the end, the filmmakers would like you to believe that this is a film about conflict, betrayal and, to some extent, broken souls drifting, bouncing off one another without connecting. It certainly works on that level, but it isn't what Capote will be remembered for.

Just as In Cold Blood reinterpreted what nonfiction could mean, so does this film re-establish the breadth of the actor's craft.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.


THE VERDICT: * * * * out of * * * * *

CAST: Philip Seymour Hoffman is Truman Capote, Catherine Keener is Nelle Harper Lee, Clifton Collins Jr. is Perry Smith, Chris Cooper is Alvin Dewey, and Bruce Greenwood is Jack Dunphy.

DIRECTOR: Bennett Miller

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

MPAA RATING: R (for some violent images and brief strong language)


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