Afternoon at the movies

Overheard at the screening of Capote I saw this afternoon: "That certainly wasn’t a movie for homophobes, was it?" No, indeed. I love overheard audience commentary.

Seriously, though, see it. (Spoilers ahoy, for those of you who require warnings of that type.) Philip Seymour Hoffman demonstrates not only his commendable acting chops, but his total fearlessness about taking on and then completely inhabiting characters who aren’t likeable. You never quite know whether his Truman Capote genuinely feels for the murderers he’s writing about, or is using his intimacy with Perry Smith to further what he feels will be his most important book, or is being driven by his sense of identification with the killers, or some combination of all three. You actually see him switch back and forth; there’s a moment where he consciously shifts gears from Perry Smith’s friend who visits him in jail to Professional Writer Who’s There For The Story, and it’s chilling, but it also makes you recall all the previous scenes that suggest otherwise. "Jack says I’m just using Perry," Capote remarks at one point. "He also says I fell in love with him. How he can believe both of those things I don’t know." But the brilliance of this movie is that it does make you believe both of those things.

I thought for a little while that it was going to turn into one of those "writers sacrifice everything, including their humanity, for their Art" biopics, but, thankfully, it’s a lot messier than that. Near the end, when Smith and Hickock have been executed, Harper Lee tells Capote that maybe he couldn’t save them, but "the fact is, you didn’t want to." And that’s exactly it: he cares about Smith enough to be wrecked when their execution goes forward, but he cares about the book too much to really help them and thus leave the book unfinished. And he knows it. His wordless self-loathing at the end of the film is almost, but not quite, too much to stand. I think I’m going to be rehashing the whole thing in my head for a week.

I’ve been following PSH’s career ever since he stole all of his scenes in Boogie Nights. Long may he continue to get the leading roles. And then there’s Catherine Keener as Harper Lee, so understated that you almost miss how great her performance is. Seriously: see it.

4 Responses to “Afternoon at the movies”

  1. Jane Dark says:

    Oh, I want to see it, I do. Maybe over Christmas break.

  2. Michelle P says:

    I have plans to see it tomorrow night. I’m also teaching True West next week.

  3. Amanda says:

    Hey, Michelle, where’d your blog go?

  4. Michelle P says:

    Oh I ditched it.
    I loved that movie. I couldn’t feature Hoffman as Capote; he’s a big guy with big arms and sausage like fingers! I couldn’t see him playing waif-like Capote but gawd, he pulled it off. That break-down scene in the warehouse. It’s a film about the advent of a peculiar sort of realism at the time and the film reflects it.
    I wanted to watch it again as soon as it was over.