Biopics may be the most unbearable of cinematic genres – what with their superficial, impression-heavy lead performances and reductive reconfiguration of messy lives into tidy three-act narratives – but Bennett Miller’s Capote narrowly avoids such pitfalls thanks to a bravura turn by Philip Seymour Hoffman as the titular writer and an economical script that focuses only on Capote’s work for his seminal true-crime masterpiece In Cold Blood. Miller’s direction skews toward the self-consciously bleak, and his film's central relationship between Capote and killer Perry Smith is often undone by Clifton Collins Jr.’s skin-deep performance as the murderer, which obscures the man’s brutal cunning with too much wounded puppy dog pathos. Still, though Miller and screenwriter Dan Futterman eventually ignore the actual process of writing – in other words, though they choose to skip over half of what their story is naturally be about – Capote is nonetheless redeemed by Hoffman, who magnificently captures the shrill, needy egotism of the legendary author through a mixture of “actorly” mannerisms (the fey gestures, the high-pitched voice) and understated, finely tuned emotional sincerity. Whether in his conversations with friend (and To Kill a Mockingbird author) Harper Lee (a dowdy Catherine Keener) or at hoity-toity Manhattan dinner parties, Hoffman eerily embodies both Capote’s magnanimous charm and his rampant narcissism. And during a wrenching climax in which the larger-than-life scribe finally extracts Smith’s confession to the Clutter family slayings, the actor superbly dramatizes the clash raging inside Capote’s heart between his compassion (and sexual attraction) for Perry on the one hand, and his cold, selfish desire for the man to die – thus providing his stagnating novel with an ending – on the other.
(2005 New York Film Festival)