The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Sunday, May 07, 2006


There is a point late in "Capote" where Truman is lamenting the fact that the killers keep getting stays of execution. "It's harrowing," he says. "All I want to do is write the ending, and there's no fucking end in sight." Amen, brother. That's how I felt about the film.

In a special features clip on the DVD, the director (Bennett Miller) says he wanted a very simple film where the camera didn't take you out of the story. Usually a viewpoint I completely agree with and applaud. But Miller's recipe for simplicity is simply plodding literalism and a lack of dynamism in his storytelling.

Far too many shots in this movie consist of setting up the camera in place and letting it film whatever the actors happen to do. Sometimes they switch to a cameraman holding the camera as steady as possible and filming an actor in extreme closeup. Every so often they throw in an outdoor establishing shot with a wide view of a bleak countryside highlighting the isolated setting of a house or a prison. It's all so studied and unimaginative you could scream.

The director said in his interview that he doesn't like storyboarding or framing out how a scene will play. It shows. This is cinema of the moment, with no feel for how the pacing will play out over the course of almost two hours. Every beat of dialog is played out slowly, methodically, deliberately. Sometimes it seems as though the actors are thinking about how they want to play the next line with each pause after the most recently delivered one.

For those who don't know, Capote deals with the period from the time Truman first reads about the killings in Kansas to the execution of the killers and publication of "In Cold Blood." Along the way, we get glimpses of Capote's high-living social whirl, his friendship with Harper Lee (as she writes, publishes, and sells film rights for "To Kill A Mockingbird"), and a few subtle small allusions to his implied gay personal life.

We see Capote as a conflicted man who both cares for/about the protagonists of his novel and as a ruthless manipulator who will say anything and lie bald-facedly to get what he wants. Phillip Seymour Hoffman carries the movie with his performance, as he is the focal point of every scene. He does the requisite portrayal of the outrageously flamboyant Capote with the high pitched, lisping voice and the showman's mannerisms. But I never felt like we learned a lot about Capote the man. In one segment on the special features, Capote's biographer says that Truman had a captivating ability to focus his attention upon people, truly listening to them, and that this was part of the charm that made him such a desirable party guest. But in the movie, Capote is more of a blowhard, always talking, always holding the center of conversation, and angry when someone else tries to steal focus or challenge him.

I was also aware of the physical discrepancy in using an actor who is five and a half inches taller than Capote was. Admittedly it is hard to find great actors who can pull off a huge role like this and who happen to be 5'4" tall. But Truman's diminutive size was a significant factor in how he related to people, how they saw him, and his need to make his mannerisms bigger than life to compensate. At more than 5'9" tall, Hoffman looks like just another guy who happens to like nice coats and scarves. To get around the problem of Hoffman not being properly dwarfed by his companions and settings, the director films up at him a lot of the time. I am now much more intimately acquainted with Phillip Seymour Hoffman's nostrils than I ever wished to be.

Catherine Keener and Chris Cooper both turn in good workmanlike performances as Harper Lee and investigator Alvin Dewey. But they aren't given very much to do. Their main use is to act as a foil for Capote and to remain as impassive as possible in the face of his theatrics.

The supporting actor who really caught my eye was Clifton Collins Jr. playing Perry Smith (one of the killers). He seemed to have an emotional core to his characterization that went below the surface level portrayals of everyone else around him. You could sense why Capote was drawn to Smith.

The music by Mychael Danna is unintrusive and uninteresting. It has the same lack of life and vibrancy that the rest of the movie shows.

Parents, there are a few curse words (well obviously, from my opening paragraph quote!) and a few bloody images surrounding the killings. No sex or nudity.


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