By Joe Lozito
The biopic "Capote" begins in 1959 when eccentric writer Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is already a famous writer and novelist. Shown as a flamboyant bon vivant, Capote is always the life of the party while harboring the deep loneliness of an outsider. One day he comes upon a small story in The New York Times
about the murder of a Kansas family. He travels to the scene of the crime with his friend and fellow writer Harper Lee (Catherine Keener). These early scenes of Capote and the soon-to-be "To Kill a Mockingbird" author patrolling rural Kansas are a joy. In her few scenes, the wonderful Ms. Keener makes you hope a Harper Lee biopic is in the works.
During their research, Capote interviews the killers, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock. He forms an immediate - if one-sided - connection with Smith, finding what he thinks is a kindred spirit in the murderer. This identification makes the development of his story an obsession.
Director Bennett Miller's previous credit is for the Tim "Speed" Levitch documentary "The Cruise", another portrait of an eccentric character. While he shows an artist's flair for framing his film, he lets the pacing lag when we should feel the immediacy of Capote's fall into self-obsession. Eventually, what was going to be a simple story for The New Yorker
became Capote's seminal and final novel, "In Cold Blood". The book all but created the True Crime genre - a fact the script, by Dan Futterman from the book by Gerald Clarke, doesn't let you forget.
The film falls into that classic biopic pitfall in which the characters predict the importance of their actions. "This is a book that will change the world." "It will change the way people write." I'm not saying people might not have said this, but as film dialogue it feels self-important. Just the few scenes of Capote staring wordlessly at the death row prisoners or drowning in his alcohol-fueled depression, would be enough. Thanks, of course, to the performance by Mr. Hoffman.
Mr. Hoffman - always a reliable presence from "Boogie Nights" to "Happiness" to "Magnolia" to "Almost Famous" and on and on - is finally given a chance to Tru-ly shine. And the results are stunning. Mr. Hoffman embodies the enigmatic Capote from the outside in. Starting with the easily recognizable vocal patterns (which he nails) to the minor facial tics to the tilt of his head and all the way through. To call this performance "lived-in" would be an understatement. Quite simply, if Mr. Hoffman doesn't receive an Oscar nomination, that would be a Tru crime.