Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Truman Show

The morning after Heath Ledger died (I know I'm putting a lot of stuff in this context, but I can't help it), Capote was on cable. It had just started, and I flipped it on, curious about the performance that won the Oscar over Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain. I had been wanting to see it anyway, but I just hadn't gotten around to it yet. And I haven't been holding a grudge against Philip Seymour Hoffman or anything. I've always loved him, and I was thrilled that he finally had his long-overdue moment. Even though Heath Ledger's performance was my personal favorite, and still is, I knew he would have more chances. There's just something very special about Heath Ledger in that film that I connected to really deeply. How could anyone have known he wouldn't have any more chances? Actually, I firmly believe that he will have one more chance with The Dark Knight.

Anyway, there's no question that Philip Seymour Hoffman deserved the Oscar for his work as Truman Capote. He completely blew me away, and I'm not the easiest nut to crack. I really wanted him to prove himself, and he did. There's always a risk of being let down when you hear for two years how amazing a performance is, and I'm happy that I wasn't. He's just the best of the best. Truman Capote was quite the character, and this film makes me want to learn more about him and read his writing. Hoffman brings so much to the role - the trademark high-pitched, almost indistinguishable at times voice, the arrogance, the magnetic personality, and the deeply scarred psyche. There are so many shades and levels to this performance. It's all about the time in his life when he was researching and writing In Cold Blood and maintaining a close relationship with one of the killers (brilliantly played by Clifton Collins, Jr.). He keeps getting them new hearings and stalling their executions, but is he doing it out of the goodness of his heart, or is it out of his own selfishness at getting a great story?

It's mainly the latter, and that's why how Hoffman depicts Capote's slowly developing guilt and conscience is masterful and breathtaking. The last scene between Capote and the two killers is one of the most heartbreaking, astounding feats of acting, on Hoffman's part, that I've ever seen. There's some great supporting work by Collins, Jr., as I've already mentioned, as well as the always extraordinary Catherine Keener as author and Capote's close friend Harper Lee. The film itself doesn't match Hoffman's performance. He does it a huge favor by blinding the audience with his greatness so that they don't really notice the flaws at first. The script could use some work, and the look of the film is really sort of ugly. Everything is puke green in hue, which is not exactly the best visual style. The production design and cinematography are extremely bland and boring. It definitely shouldn't have been nominated for Best Picture. The film is nothing special and really quite average.

It is redeemed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who elevates it beyond what the film deserves. That's why I have to give it a fairly high rating, because I didn't think about those flaws until it was over. I was too spellbound by him. A performance is even more impressive when it can deflect attention from a lackluster movie. But to bring new insight to one of the most analyzed and enigmatic personalities of the 20th century - that's another achievement altogether.

Film Rating: **** (out of 5)
Philip Seymour Hoffman: ***** (out of 5)

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