Prayer Focus
Movie Review


MPAA Rating: R for some violent images and brief strong language

Reviewed by: Chris Monroe

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Biography Drama
1 hr. 38 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
September 30, 2005 (NY/LA)
Featuring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper, Clifton Collins Jr., Mark Pellegrino
Director: Bennett Miller
Producer: Dan Futterman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Caroline Baron
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Copyright, Sony Pictures Classics
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Relevant Issues
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About murder in the Bible

Sin and the Bible

“Just be honest in what you write” is a creed that the title character espouses to all of his friends and colleagues and simultaneously attempts to live by in the biography picture “Capote”. This man’s intriguing way of being vulnerable with everybody he meets helps bring down their defenses and causes them be open and honest with him. But whose interests does he ultimately have in mind?

Based on true events from the life of author Truman Capote, this story begins November 15, 1959 when Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) reads a newspaper article about the brutal murder of a family in Kansas. As a writer for The New Yorker, Capote initially intends on writing a piece for his magazine, but during his four years of research on the event decides to make his account into a non-fictional piece of literature, entitled In Cold Blood. His devotion to telling this story makes him a friend to not only the townspeople of Holcomb, but also an intimate acquaintance to one of the murderers.

Due to the nature of the event that Capote is researching, violent images and incidents are portrayed. Some are static shots or photos, while another sequence shows moments from the actual murder. They are quite explicit and pretty disturbing. There is also a scene depicting an execution by hanging. Aside from this, there are is also some foul language, including an instance of the Lord’s name being taken in vain.

This film is clearly a character-driven piece, and Hoffman’s performance is ultimately center stage. He doesn’t seem to miss a beat, maintaining his chosen interpretation of Capote throughout the entire film. The strongest choice is with the effeminate voice that Hoffman chooses, depicting how Capote is said to have actually talked. In shots where Capote isn’t speaking, it was hard not to imagine Hoffman’s usual voice, but once he starts speaking that distraction tends to go away.

The screenplay is interesting, too, in that it weaves a clear plot into this slice of one man’s life. The writing for this movie successfully shares the nuances and characteristics of Capote with a clear story build up to the event of the Supreme Court’s decision on the fate of the murderers. The credits explain that this film is based on true events, but also admits that there are fictional elements included.

The biggest subtlety surrounding Capote’s character in this film is his relationship with Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), author of To Kill A Mockingbird, and with his friend and fellow writer, Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood). In the beginning, Capote refers to Nelle as his assistant, but she is depicted as the best friend of Capote. The relationship with Jack is also a close friendship, but seems to have a kind of romantic tenor to it as well.

It was moving to see a man who could be such a sensitive and caring person, even to a brutal murderer. Capote was sincerely consumed with his research for this book and cared about those he interviewed, but eventually I began questioning some of his motives. Although Capote is depicted as very sincere and loving, he is also quite self-consumed.

“Capote” is a well made film and easily sustained my interest throughout. It doesn’t delve into much else of Truman Capote’s life, aside from the time he spent on this book, but does give some insight into just what he was like. Overall, I didn’t walk away with too much, but it did provide something interesting to think about.

Violence: Heavy / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: None

Viewer Comments
Neutral—Part of the genius Truman Capote displayed in his novel, IN COLD BLOOD, came from his understanding and identification with rural life, with Americana. Today we would say he knew what made the Red-Staters tick. He knew what life was like outside New York City, even though he took to Manhattan society with a confidence and a flair that only great personalities and great talents can command. A touching story in the recent biography of Capote’s life is the scene after his famous 1968 Black and White Ball at the Plaza Hotel. After hosting the Paleys and the Grahams and the Sinatras and the Buckleys he chose to spend the final hours of the evening in a hotel room with the Louisiana friends he had grown up with talking about where they had gone and where they had come from.

The filmmakers behind CAPOTE lack Capote’s insight and understanding of what heartland America is and why a crime such as the Cutter murder can resonate for decades after it happened. They don’t get under the skins of the Kansas people—they don’t even get near them. The camera which can’t get enough of Capote’s face can’t stay far enough away from the common folk. The scenes with the police, the investigator’s family, the prison warden, and the jailer’s wife go nowhere. Are the spouses of law enforcement officials, who have no doubt seen and heard it all, especially in the days when prisoners could be held in the sheriff’s own living quarters, really this star struck and blushing?

Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performance carries the movie. It is a great performance by a great star. His earlier scene stealing supporting roles (I always wondered if actors weren’t uncomfortable working with him—he turns the tables on his costars more than kids or dogs would) make him a likely choice for this part, but his work here goes beyond grabbing the limelight. As Capote, he’s always fascinating, always revealing. But as in other bio dramas there is nothing behind the performance that would give it resonance. The drama of the writer desperate to get a story out at the expense of his subject works well, but here it hammers home not just Capote’s narcissism, but the self-absorption of the filmmakers as well.

One would think that writers Jack Dumphy and Harper Lee would have lived interesting lives and have been interesting people, but you’d never know it from this film. Their characters have been drained of so much here that they not only talk pallidly; they look pale too. Would Harper Lee really have behaved and dressed so blandly at the premier of the TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD film?

Capote’s novel was chilling in many ways, especially in the way he interwove the lives of Hickock and Smith with those of the Cutters. We see a lot of Smith in the movie which is understandable since so much of Capote’s tale comes from what he brought from his relationship with Smith, but the Cutters are given short shrift. Justice may have been done in the courts and on the gallows, but once again Hollywood fascination and sympathy are with the rogues.
My Ratings: Offensive / 3½
—Jim O’Neill, age 52
Positive—A remarkable film, driven, as you’ve no doubt already heard, by a remarkable lead performance. Truman Capote, to many, is a caricature, a man of eccentricities, whether it be in the way he looked, the way he spoke, or what he chose to say. When playing a character as recognizable and flamboyant as this, it can be easy to hide behind these quirks, worrying more about impersonation than actual characterization. Philip Seymour Hoffman does not do that. Rather than simply trying to nail Capote’s voice or his demeanor, Hoffman chooses to work from the inside out. Here is a man who knew exactly what his persona was, and played to that every chance he got. He was clever, witty, and sardonic. He was perpetually aloof, always commenting on life, but never quite taking part.

And yet, even this man cannot remain impartial and objective about the events that he’s heard about. The Clutter killings were brutal and senseless, yet he, at first, approaches it just like anything else, saying that he doesn’t care if the killers are caught. But, as the case starts to overtake him, he finds it impossible not to get involved. His feeling of kinship with Perry Smith, one of the killers, resonates deep within him. In the right circumstances, could he have done what Perry did? This relationship builds, even as Capote tries to keep his distance.

It’s a fascinating paradox. Capote truly wants to help Perry, but also knows that it will benefit him more if Perry is executed. His ultimate choice haunts him for the rest of his life, and Truman Capote died of alcoholism at a fairly young age.

While it’s a bit cliche to say that this film is about choices, that is exactly what this movie is. Capote was faced with the choice between total self-centeredness, which involved the death of someone he cared about, and commitment to helping someone else. That the someone else was a killer is beside the point. Capote made his choice and lived with the overwhelming consequences. Given the choice he made, it is not a surprise that he did not live very long.
My Ratings: Average / 4½
—Tyler Smith, age 24
Positive—I think this is a remarkable movie. It is entirely about Capote’s research of the brutal murder of a family in Kansas by two men. The subject matter is well-balanced. It does not overweigh any aspect of this period of time in Capote’s life (about four years). His homosexual relationship with Jack (his partner) is not in focus. It maintains a neutral approach to the events surrounding the killings, which Capote describes in his famous and last, finished book, In Cold Blood. Ironically, he was unable to finish anything else after that and died 20 years later. Although the murder of the Kansas family was heinous, we do not have to see details of the crime except in split-second flashbacks. Rather, the movie focuses on how Capote goes about getting information for his novel. Capote’s peculiar personality is portrayed brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and it’s quite distasteful. He was flamboyantly homosexual, but this fact is not emphasized or over-played. The movie is surprisingly inoffensive. It’s sober and serious, and the story weighs heavy. Highly recommended even for the Christian viewer.
My Ratings: Offensive / 5
Halyna Barannik, age 59
Positive—The background to this film is the 1959 murder in rural Kansas of a family of 4. Truman Capote travels to Kansas and after extensive research writes the book In Cold Blood. I was interested in this movie because of these elements: Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and Truman Capote were childhood friends in Monroe, Alabama during the depression. I find it remarkable that two great American authors could come from this small town.

Truman Capote is actually a character in To Kill a Mockingbird, the next door nephew visiting his Aunt “Dill”. And, of course, Mockingbird was semi-autobiographical of Harper Lee’s childhood.

The acting is great. Of course, Hoffman received the Oscar for Best Actor. …
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
—Jim Peet, age 56
Negative—Was this movie well made? Yes. Did I enjoy this movie? Absolutely not. Truman Capote’s narcissism and self-centered lifestyle made this movie agonizing to watch. I felt like I needed a shower after this movie was finished. This movie was not entertaining or encouraging. It was very oppressive and sad.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 4
—James Smith, age 28
Positive—There is no way for a movie that deals with a brutal murder and Capote can be non-offensive. However, the movie was well done and did not glorify immoral behavior in anyway. This is certainly an adult-only movie, but is worth viewing to understand the history behind In Cold Blood.
My Ratings: Average / 4
—Joe, age 57
Positive—Makes references to Capote’s homosexuality… deals with the brutal slaying of a family… really boring movie. Except that the actor playing Capote is shockingly incredible. He will keep you riveted to your seat (if the story doesn’t put you to sleep first). If you enjoy well made movies, with superb acting, this is the one for you. There are no redeeming Christian values associated with this movie. Remember, the movie focuses around Capote “befriending” the murderers for selfish gain. It’s done kind of documentary style, and overall I don’t think you could get a 13 year old to stay awake during it.
My Ratings: Offensive / 5
—John, age 35
Movie Critics
…absorbing, and thrillingly perceptive… It teases, fascinates, and haunts.
—Entertainment Weekly, Owen Gleiberman
…an exploitation true-crime story, done at a very high level. …a devastating portrait of genius and narcissism…
—New York Daily News, Jack Mathews