Sunday, 14 March 2010

We're Not So Different As You Might Think.

Philip Seymour Hoffman festival! After Synecdoche, New York and Happiness, I thought it time to check out his biggest role. A few years back he pulled a Mo'Nique and won pretty much everything going (only in the leading categories) for his portrayal of writer Truman Capote in Bennett Miller's biopic Capote.

Capote is based around the events contained within Capote's last completed major work, In Cold Blood. In Kansas, a family of four, the Clutters, are found brutally murdered in their homes, apparently (wait for it...) in cold blood. No one can understand why this is. Capote reads about the murders in the newspaper and decides that they are what he wants to write about, convincing his editor at the New Yorker to send him off to Kansas to start talking to the townsfolk, family and friends of the victims, taking with him his dear friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener - Catherine Keener festival!) to act as research assistant and 'bodyguard.'

Capote's flamboyant New York personality and style initially jars with the residents, but shortly they warm to him, especially as they begin to understand who he is. Whilst he is in town two people are apprehended for committing the crime, and Capote begins to talk to them, trying to get their side of the story. He keeps talking to them and talking to them, cajoling them and pleading with them, trying to understand what the motivation behind this heinous crime was, but to no avail. His own obsession, despite having not written a word, keeps him returning to the town, keeps him in contact with these killers, seems to be turning him a little crazy. Eventually they are both put to death without Capote having discovered their reasons, and it becomes clear that these people were never his friends - Capote was using them for his own egotistical means.

Hoffman's performance is extraordinary. Playing a very famously gay character, he does camp it up, but it is with little affectations rather than a whole-hearted embrace, and that is what makes the performance so extraordinary. Rather than acting like a drag queen in civvies, Hoffman's Capote is in the hands holding a newspaper, in not moving his face much when he laughs (stops the wrinkles!), in a slight stiffening of the back when he sits in a pretense of good posture. Tiny little things, sometimes written all over his face as a conscious action, much as they are in real life, gave this performance a quality that very few performers can achieve, especially as a straight man playing a gay man (or even a gay man playing a gay man - too much stereotype and too much to prove.) Very subtle, and very beautiful. Keener, similarly, played the reclusive Lee very well, just keeping her head down and doing what she needed to do. Supporting Capote at the same time as she kept him at a distance - his friend, but always seeming to be a little cautious of the power of his ego. Chris Cooper, as the detective in charge of the case, rounds out the major cast with a solid performance, achieving all that his character could, considering there is very little room to move in his development over the film.

A good film with a great performance. 4 stars.

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