Friday, April 25, 2014

Ebert Thoughts ‘14—Capote (2005) ****

R, 114 min.
Director: Bennett Miller
Writer: Dan Futterman, Gerald Clarke (book)
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Chris Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, Mark Pellegrino, Amy Ryan, Bob Balaban, Marshall Bell, Allie Mickelson

I imagine “Capote” was chosen for this year’s festival to honor the work of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who passed away earlier this year from a drug overdose. Director/producer Bennett Miller is the panel guest for the movie, but much of the talk this afternoon will surely revolve around Hoffman and his body of work.

Hoffman was in many ways a strange choice to play Truman Capote. He was a fairly big, burly guy compared to the rather delicate Capote. In a competing Capote film the same year, British actor Toby Jones was tapped to play the iconic American writer. Jones diminutive stature made him more of a natural for the role. But, it was Hoffman who won his only Oscar for playing the soft-spoken effeminate. A much-deserved award, Hoffman was helped by Miller’s dark production that wisely focused only on the writing of Capote’s book “In Cold Blood” and Dan Futterman’s deep script.

Probably like many of the audience members at today’s screening in Champaign, I’d like to focus a little more on Hoffman than the movie, however. I wrote an obituary for the actor upon his death a few months back, which is something I don’t do for that many cinematic personalities. I’ve written one for Roger Ebert, John Hughes, Ernest Borgnine and maybe one or two others. Hoffman’s death was more shocking than most I think because of what a powerful actor he was. Also because, he seemed to come from the same beginnings as just about any actor. He didn’t burst onto the scene as Philip Seymour Hoffman, but started in popular fare, such as “Scent of a Woman” and “Twister”, yet people remembered him from those movies as well. He distinguished himself even when he wasn’t in something distinguishing.

On another blog where I also posted the obit, I received a very negative response to it that lacked compassion, not only for Hoffman, but also for any addict. I fear this response is the result of the deadening of emotions caused by the “comment syndrome” nature of the Internet. In people’s need to have something to say about anything, they lack the ability to place themselves in someone else’s situation. This is quite ironic in terms of Hoffman’s death, since the reason so many people shared my own emotional response to Hoffman is because he was so good at tapping into that indescribable something that makes us human. That was his gift and legacy. His role as Capote is perhaps one of the best examples of this, since Capote himself was such an enigmatic public figure whose important but relatively small contribution to American literature showed his own ability to tap into that same indescribable something.

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