- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2005

“Capote,” a debut theatrical feature for screenwriter Dan Futterman and director Bennett Miller, is the first of two movie biographies concerned with author Truman Capote (1924-84) during the period in which he was researching and writing the crime chronicle “In Cold Blood.”

The film begins late in 1959, when Mr. Capote was intrigued by a brief New York Times story about the murder of a west Kansas family. His book about the killing and the killers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickok, who were apprehended within a few weeks, confessed and spent more than five years on death row before being hanged, finally emerged as a publishing phenomenon in 1965.

The principal source material for the film is Gerald Clarke’s authorized bio, “Capote.” At one point Mr. Clarke quotes from a letter in which the subject confides, “It is rather upsetting, the degree to which I am obsessed by the book. I scarcely think of anything else. The odd part is, I hate to work on it … I just want to think about it. Or rather, I don’t want to, but I can’t stop myself.”

Ultimately, an adequate understanding of this literary self-absorption eludes the filmmakers, whose inexperience undermines their sincerity. It’s essentially a cerebral process, and they attempt a cerebral presentation, but movies are much more adept at time-traveling, scene-shifting, dynamic and fantastic illusions. Thought and semi-concealed emotion depend on actors — actors with enough material to achieve coherence.

Philip Seymour Hoffman approaches the title role with admirable cleverness and precision, nailing such oddities as Mr. Capote’s high-pitched voice and fey hauteur, but the script neglects to talk out undercurrents and doubts that would profit from heated discussion.

The premise is clear enough: Truman Capote becomes a monster of vanity and manipulation while devoted to an ambitious, fame-hungry writing project. He proves coldblooded in exploiting both the victims and the murderers. The latter Mr. Capote plays false by posing as a trusted confidante even though their executions loom as a deliverance, clearing the deck for a denouement and publication.

Catherine Keener and Bruce Greenwood are cast as the confidantes best positioned to question the protagonist’s methods: Harper Lee, a childhood friend who accompanies Mr. Capote to Kansas at the outset (shortly before her own novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is published); and Jack Dunphy, an author and longtime companion who seems skeptical about the entire enterprise.

The filmmakers entrust the friends with somber, disapproving moods as Mr. Capote grows more obsessed. It would be better if they spoke out and provoked arguments, especially about the false position Mr. Capote adopts while growing close to Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.), favored as a doomed alter ego.

A dubious tear-jerker in the last analysis, “Capote” concludes with Mr. Hoffman as a seemingly haunted and emotionally broken figure, circa 1965. This pitying note is difficult to square with the Truman Capote who remained a grandstanding literary and social celebrity for at least another decade. The door remains wide open for a garrulous, hard-boiled cinematic depiction of the circumstances that produced his cold-blooded classic.

**

TITLE: “Capote”

RATING: R (Fleeting graphic violence and occasional profanity)

CREDITS: Directed by Bennett Miller. Screenplay by Dan Futterman, based on the biography “Capote” by Gerald Clarke. Cinematography by Adam Kimmel. Production design by Jess Gonchor. Costume design by Kasia Walicka-Maimone. Music by Mychael Danna.

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes

WEB SITE: www.sonyclassics.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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