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Heroes of the Zeroes: Capote

by on February 21, 2010
 

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films from 2000 to 2009.

“Capote”
Rated R
2005

Writers pushed outside of their comfort zones can deliver great journalism. As “Capote” told it, Truman Capote’s experience reporting “In Cold Blood” — about the Clutter murders in Kansas and their perpetrators — knocked him to the floor senseless. But you wouldn’t feel compelled to extend a hand to help him up.

A lot of biopics are described as warts-and-all. Here, the warts were the story’s life. As a title, “In Cold Blood” clearly referred as much to Capote’s chase of the story as it did to the manner in which Dick Hickock and Perry Smith murdered the Clutters.

There’s never any lightbulb moment to sway Capote back toward audience likeability, but such characterization isn’t really the forte of Philip Seymour Hoffman, in an Oscar-winning performance as the writer.

It remains Hoffman’s finest, bravest work — blending Capote’s flamboyant mannerisms and towering reputation with subtle menace and crumbling composure. His work also is physically acute to the point where you focus on mere eye movement to see him taking in information. Capote goes from casually comic raconteur to puppet master to, finally, the loser in a Faustian bargain.

Director Bennett Miller and screenwriter Dan Futterman turned on its ear the journalistic notion of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable with a beautifully shot, paced and scripted 2005 film. Hell pulled at Capote from all sides here, and, against conventional biopic structure, won out. With no frills, “Capote” powerfully portrayed how steady moral decay corroded his powers of expression.