Biographies are nothing brand new. Hollywood has been making these types of films for quite sometime. Some of the more famous biographies are about people like George S. Patton and political leader Ghandi. Most recently, audiences were invited into the world of Truman Capote. The two aforementioned biographies tended to cast actors that seemed not to necessarily play the person, but more so become the character almost channeling him. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, like George C. Scott and Ben Kingsley, channels Capote in a…rare and artful manner.
The film version of Capote tells the story of Truman Capote who on November 15th, 1959, noticed a news item about four members of a Kansas family who had been shot-gunned to death. Capote telephoned William Shawn, editor of The New Yorker, wondering if Shawn would be interested in an article about the murders. It was later said, by Capote, that this was a big mistake of his as this sole event resulted in the occurrence of a lot of bad events for one Capote.
As we go through the roughly six years of Capote’s life in this film, we see him interviewing the killers, the law officers and the neighbors of the murdered Clutter family. His project seems to tackle the subject of their deaths and the whole story as a story of conflicting fates of some sort. When Capote first heard of this story, he thought the story would be about how a little community would deal with this tragedy as a whole. What Capote found was himself being consumed by this story that would make him not only rich, but also very famous, thus basically destroying his whole life and character. According to an article on Wikipedia, it was said that all these events not only emotionally devastated Capote but also sped up his death.
The film opens with Capote, a basic writer, who appears on talk shows. Capote is a rather small man but has an extremely large ego that tends to affect his speech. His small stature made him appear as a type of outsider wherever he went. At one point, Capote tries to win the affection of a young girl in Kansas by telling her that he is the type of person that everyone thinks they know everything about just because of the way he looks and talks.
The film is based on the book Capote by Gerald Clarke. Clarke focused on the way a writer works on a story and the way the story works on him as a whole. At one point Capote wins the acceptance of one Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper), the main agent assigned to the murder case. Over dinner in his kitchen, Capote entertains the guests with stories about Humphrey Bogart. He tends to study Alvin’s house like the way a chemist studies a mixture; with extreme notice of detail. The other main key characters in the film are Capote’s lover Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood) and Mr. Shawn (Bob Balaban). While these two characters aren’t as interesting as Capote himself, they do add a bit of charisma to the film through the great performances by Greenwood and Balaban.
I must, must mention actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman or should I say Academy Award Winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman has had quite the interesting career making extreme duds like 1998’s Patch Adams and 2004’s blah comedy Along Came Polly, while also making extremely provocative and powerful films like 2002’s Punch Drunk Love and now, finally winning an Academy Award, 2005’s Capote. All the praise Hoffman has received is well deserved as he brings this man of oddity to life with stunning skill and power. Some have labeled this year’s Academy Award Best Picture nominees as odd choices, but I totally agree so far with the Academy as every Best Picture nomination, with exception of Best Picture winnerCrash, are excellent. Capote is easily added to this list.
Capote is presented in an aspect ratio of 2:35:1. The image is quite exhilarating. Colors are bright, crisp, clean and sharp. The color palette used for the film easily brings out the film’s subjects with a lot of grays being used to suggest the mild tones. The only real negative here is the fairly noticeable high levels of dirt and grain in some of the outdoor sequences. With a film like this, especially since it gathered a lot of Oscar attention, one would expect this little problem to be attended to by DVD release. Other from this minor problem (which is not that noticeable to many), the transfer is nearly flawless. Excellent job Sony.
We are given a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound Audio Track. The Track gets the job done in one aspect, but I kind of expected a bit more. While dialogue was rather clear, which was a good thing since this was a dialogue heavy film I felt the overall range of the rear effects was not up to par. The audio does a fine job, but maybe I’m being a bit too critical as I expected more out of the surrounds (the movie is dialogue heavy, so maybe this is something I shouldn’t expect). It’s just that many other dialogue heavy films, like the recent Brokeback Mountain (even though the DVD hasn’t been announced) filmed the dialogue scenes with a lovely score in the background. The score for Capote was good, but not as lively as it should have been.
We are given a good amount of extras here.
- Commentary by Director Bennett Miller and actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman: The two gather here to mostly speak about a wide arrange of topics from the film’s subject, the topic of production by Miller, to the topic of acting as a craft by Hoffman. While the track is not something that will have you jumping out of your sit screaming and yelling, the track is very informative and well worth a listen if you enjoy Hoffman’s work.
- Commentary by Director Bennett Miller and Cinematographer Adam Kimmel: The two gather here to speak mostly about the visual aspects of the film. Due to the film having such a low budget, Miller and Kimmel joke around at particular points showing us how some scenes were made to look better and seem more expensive. This is easily the more lively of the two tracks and is worth a listen if you are interested in the visual aspects of filmmaking.
- Truman Capote: Answered Prayers: This feature focuses on the life of Truman Capote mostly speaking of his writings, speeches and his life achievements. Even though the feature is rather brief at around 7 minutes, we do get to hear from Miller and Hoffman once more in a few interviews.
- Making Capote: Concept to Script: This feature basically focuses on the production aspects of the film from early scripts to early ideas about the acting.
- Making Capote: Defining a Style: The last of the big three features here speaks to us about the look of the film. We get a lot more depth into the visual style of the film from the scenery to the actual sets.
- Previews: Here we get a host of various previews.
Capote is well worth the price of admission. Featuring amazing acting, a near flawless picture, good audio, and some great features, Capote comes highly recommended for those who simply enjoy fine examples of cinematic greatness.
Special Features List
- Commentary with Director Bennett Miller and Actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman
- Commentary with Director Bennett Miller and Cinematographer Adam Kimmel
- Truman Capote: Answered Prayers
- Making Capote: Concept to Script
- Making Capote: Defining a Style