Friday afternoon, following the awesome screening of 1924’s He Who Gets Slapped (which I wrote up for Rogerebert.com) came the screening of Capote.
It is still hard to comprehend that Philip Seymour Hoffman is no longer with us. It is like living in a horrible alternate reality. That was made even more clear watching his brilliant Oscar-winning performance of Truman Capote. I had seen it before, of course, but not since its original release. Director Bennett Miller was attending as a guest (Capote was his first feature, a fact that boggles the mind), and he and Hoffman were friends, and you just could sense how difficult it was … in general … for him to be there. Yet this is what you do when you are an artist, you show up to pay tribute, you show up to honor. As hard as it is, it was important, and I really appreciated Miller’s recognition of that. Sad as it was, the day was a celebration of Hoffman’s talent. It really was. Many tears were shed, but that’s part of it.
Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, was there (he was at Ebertfest last year as well), and he is also bringing out Bennett Miller’s next film, Foxcatcher. I loved Capote, but I loved Moneyball even more (Here’s my review at Capital New York). I really admire Bennett Miller’s stuff.
Hoffman’s performance in Capote is even better than I remembered. So much of it has to do with him thinking, pondering, looking, his mind twirling around inside, calculating, manipulating, a master chess player. But there’s this pain going on … pain that increases as the film moves on, as the years pass, as Capote is forced to basically wait for the killers to be executed so he can finish his book … There’s one shot of him sitting in a room, phone to his ear, and he’s talking about the agony he is in, and he has his head in his hands, his fingers splayed out wide, sort of cupping his forehead and crown of head … and it’s such an eloquent gesture. There are all these mixed feelings. The Clutter family is dead. I don’t feel for Perry Smith at all. Or Dick Hickock. I feel for the Clutter family who were unfortunate enough to meet those monsters. Miller found Clifton Collins Jr., who played Perry Smith, after an extensive casting search, and he walked in, nailed it, literally a couple of weeks before they started shooting. He was their guy. And Hickock was played by Mark Pellegrino, who is awesome, and awesome as Lucifer in Supernatural too: He is one HELL of an actor.
In researching his book, Capote felt a kinship to Perry Smith, yes … he felt that they grew up in the same house, almost, and Smith walked out the back door and Capote walked out the front. But at the same time, he recognizes that his interviews with Smith are going to MAKE his book (as indeed they did). “He’s a goldmine,” Capote says to Harper Lee (Catherine Keener). And yet that moment when Perry explains to Capote what “exacerbate” means and Capote says, “I know what exacerbate means.” I remember it as an ice-pick, the sudden steely side of Capote revealing itself. Because nobody could be steelier than Capote. Hoffman had all of that in his performance. It was deeply layered, deeply thought out.
There’s one huge closeup of Hoffman, talking on the phone with Harper Lee, and he says, so quietly you almost can’t hear him: “Sometimes when I think of how good my book is going to be, I can’t breathe.”
Michael Barker observed in his comments beforehand:
“No matter how sophisticated Truman Capote was, no matter how brilliant he was and how on top of the world he was, if you look deep in his eyes, the way Phil plays the part, you will notice the eyes of a man who was an abandoned child and never got over it.”
Watch the performance again with those words in mind.
You could feel the loss in that room. One woman took the mike, and started to say, “I just wanted to thank you both for being here …” and broke down in the middle of it. She had to stop for a second to get herself together.
Bennett Miller said quietly during the pause, “Thank you.”
It was that kind of day.
Rogerebert.com contributor Susan Wloszczyna wrote up the emotional screening and QA following for the site.