Phillip Seymour Hoffman is imbued with four times more raw talent than his peers. It is this enormous disparity that creates the opportunity for “stealing” scenes from his more experienced or more famous but not equivalently talented peers. The disproportionately gifted actor can be burdened by a feature role, however, in much the same way that a rare chocolate can be burdened by a featured role at dinner. A small piece following the main course compliments the fine dining experience. Eight ounces following the salad course, though, and things become unstable. There is the chocolate that is so good that all other considerations melt away.
Al Pacino in Panic in Needle Park and Charlize Theron in Monster were that good. Hoffman in this film is that good and yet Truman Capote’s self-designed caricature unfortunately continues to distract.
By contrast, Hoffman’s portrayal of Dan Mahowny in Owning Mahoney succeeds in part due to Mahowny’s normalcy. Capote’s bizarre personality construct presents an enormous challenge for the audience in terms of suspension of disbelief. Only infrequently was I able to lose myself in the story and Hoffman’s character, too often I was acutely aware of Hoffman’s “portrayal.”
The tragedy of Capote’s entanglement with his subject in In Cold Blood is the real story of former high school classmates writer Dan Futterman and director Bennett Miller’s film version of Capote’s life. The tone is dark and Capote’s famous wit is too briefly in evidence.
Miller’s Capote restricts itself to the period immediately following the murders that provided the material for In Cold Blood.We learn that Capote took an active role in their defense by arranging for more competent legal representation. In a chilling moment between Capote and Lee, he reveals his belief that he and Perry are of the same stock, ‘as I walked out the front door of my childhood home into sunlight and fame, Perry snuck out the back in shadow and shame.’
Catherine Keener as Harper Lee and Chris Cooper as KBI agent Dewey provide relief from the spirit crushing weight of murderer Perry’s (Clifton Collins) dependence on and belief in Capote. The film ends with the epithetic text that so crudely sums a life, “he died of complications from alchoholism.” In truth, he was killed by In Cold Blood.