Sunday, July 02, 2006


CapoteI enjoyed Capote, out on DVD tomorrow (Monday), much more than I thought I was going to. The truth is the trailers had been rather dull, so in spite of the oscar nominations I steered clear when this was released in theatres.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives a very good 'impersonation' of Truman Capote, all the more impressive given his large size compared with Capote's diminutive frame, but, unlike the Academy Award voters, I don't think it was the best 'acting' performance last year. I think David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) or Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain) gave better performances myself, but then I'm not an actor so am probably not best equipped to judge these things!

I did think the direction was deserving of an award though - it's subtle, but clever, and whilst some will undoubtedly find the movie's pacing a little slow I think this is probably what was required to properly tell what is a rather difficult story. The cinematography is frequently breathtaking, despite my reservations about the overly green colour palette, and there are some shots that will stay with me for some time and are likely to become iconic.

Acting wise, the stand-out performance for me was that of Clifton Collins Jr as murderer Perry Smith. He delivers a performance struck with pathos, such that one feels sympathy for him, despite the monstrous thing he has done. It may not be as 'showy' a performance as Hoffman's, but it's a beautifully underplayed and moving one.

Ultimately though it's Hoffman, playing the flamboyant writer after whom the movie is named, who must carry the 'real life' late 1950's story - one that tells the tragic tale of a man doomed to get what he wishes for, only to find out it would have been better if he hadn't. And, in my opinion, it's because this is a movie primarily about Capote, that it fails to be a GREAT movie and ends up merely being a GOOD one - Capote doesn't come across as in any way a sympathetic character, but as a lying, manipulative, mendacious eccentric man obsessed with his own self-importance. Unfortunately, it's hard to get engrossed in a film where one has so little sympathy for the main character. Little attempt is made to personalise Capote himself, even when we are given scenes away from the main murder story, attempting to show the relationship between him and his long-term lover, also a writer. The partner gets hardly any lines to speak of, and appears so distant that one really doesn't believe in the relationship between the two men at all. The overall impression one is left with is that even in his love life Capote was an extremely selfish, cold fish.

Because of this lack of likeable characters, I suspect this is a film that will struggle to cross over and be a 'popular' film with the public at large - it's a bit too 'art house' for that. Although the story the movie tells is not without interest, in all honesty, I don't know how the problems I perceive with the basic likeability of the central characters could be fixed without making it a completely different film.

As is becoming the norm with modern films, de-saturated colours are evident throughout - the featurette talks about the deliberately-designed 'pastel colour scheme', but in cinema trailers at least this just came across as a murky dark green. While the DVD transfer is arguably the best they could achieve, the print used as the master copy is in poor shape for a movie that's less than a year old: white flecks occur endlessly throughout the duration of the whole film - a very poor show in my view.

The three featurettes are a bit of a mixed blessing, but at least they don't outstay their welcome. The documentary on the real life Capote is the most interesting, but is frustratingly short at just 8 minutes. The 'Making of', split into two parts to presumably promote 'three' featurettes rather than 'two', is rather perfunctory too, and although there's an interesting tidbit from Clifton Collins Jr, who plays the doomed Perry Smith, admitting that his own upbringing was similar to that of the murderer he played such that he 'had a breakdown' several times in the film, I would have liked to hear a lot more from this actor who delivered what was for me the most powerful performance in the movie. The two commentaries, one with director and oscar winner (for best actor) Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and one with director and cinematographer Adam Kimmel, have their moments but are generally rather dull. The two parallel commentaries repeat each other too much, and a single commentary with all three participants would have better served those interested in hearing more about the making of the film. It's revealed that the second commentary was supposed to have included writer Dan Futterman but that the birth of his child the day the commentary was recorded messed this plan up somewhat, so perhaps the additional track would have worked better if all the planned participants had been available. What one gets from the commentaries is some insight into the decisions the director made, the rather surprising news that there was a lot of improvisation, and that there was a very late-in-the-day set of reshoots - I think, at one point, the director reveals these took place 18 months after principal photography had ended., The over-riding impression one is left with is that this was what is diplomatically called 'a difficult shoot'. Nobody really goes into exactly why it was difficult, but the continual praise for actor Chris Cooper who doesn't have a big part in the movie, frequent mentions of the need for a lot of retakes for Hoffman, and a seeming avoidance of saying anything much about Clifton Collins Jr performance, indicate where some of the problems may have lain. One certainly comes away with the impression that the director could be tough, but knew exactly what he wanted, whilst Hoffman is probably what used to be euphemistically called 'high maintenance'.

Overall, not a bad release then, and a very thought-provoking, if ultimately tragic, tale, that held my attention throughout. I just wish they'd sourced a better print for one of the year's highest profile releases.

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