Capote (2005)

In Anne Proulx’s widely-blogged screed against the Academy Awards, she dismissed Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Truman Capote as imitation. Hoffman had video footage to work with, Proulx maintains, whereas Heath Ledger, who plays Ennis in Brokeback Mountain, had to portray a character who doesn’t exist.

Imitation or not, it’s still a remarkable feat for the burly Hoffman to transform himself into the fey Capote.

But it’s Dan Futterman’s script that gives Hoffman something on which his acting chops could chew.

Capote follows Truman Capote in the years he wrote In Cold Blood.

The gregarious Capote used his effusive charm to win the trust of the skeptical residents of Holcomb, Kansas, where the Clutter family was murdered. He later meets with Perry Smith, one of the killers, and coaxes him repeatedly to tell the story of what happened that night.

But the charm Capote uses to liven up social gatherings becomes manipulative, as he’s shown telling different things to different people to get what he wants. He tells Smith he hasn’t chosen a title when in fact, he had.

His self-interest in seeing the book published clashes with a frienship developing between him and the killers. It’s interesting watching Capote (or rather Hoffman as Capote) trying to maintain distance in a relationship where he’s forged some kind of connection.

Catherine Keener does an excellent job as Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee is the grounding force in Capote’s life, calling him out (gently) on his crap and forcing him to confront his divided motivations.

Bruce Greenwood portrays Jack Dunphy, Capote’s longtime companion. I wasn’t familiar with the tenor of their relationship in real life, but reportedly, they were non-exclusive partners who drifted apart in Capote’s final years. Greenwood and Hoffman portray a palpatable caring between the two men, but it’s nothing that translates physically. Even in private, they didn’t seem very affectionate.

Did they never hold hands?

In the featurettes of the DVD, director Bennett Miller describes Capote as a tragedy. Capote sets out to write a monumentous novel, and after meeting the killers, he’s changed in a way that brings his destruction.

Capote never finished another novel after In Cold Blood, and 20 years after its publication, he died of substance abuse.

Proulx may have bitten into some sour grapes about the shutout of Brokeback Mountain from the actor categories, but if Hoffman truly deserves the Award, it isn’t merely because of imitation.