In the supplements on this DVD, Philip Seymour Hoffman mentions that he wouldn’t have done “Capote” if it was a biopic. I can understand that. The reality is that we don’t need two to three hours of narrative spanning Truman Capote’s entire life when we can focus on a seminal event that had a profound influence on him and defined his existence.
The film opens late in 1959, on a Kansas farm. A family has been brutally murdered, and the “New York Times” write-up of the incident prompts Capote to cover the aftermath for “The New Yorker” magazine. Accompanied by research assistant Harper Lee, who will later become famous as the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” he travels there and manages to get past the small town reactions to his flamboyant personality and dig deeper into the story.
When the killers are arrested, he becomes close to one of them, Perry Smith, and we quickly realize that he is doing so because he wants to get as much information out of him as he can for his book, “In Cold Blood,” which later became a huge bestseller and started the non-fiction novel movement. He strings them along with a false sense of hope, even offering to help them get a lawyer, so he can get what he needs.
Once he has sucked Perry dry, however, his focus turns to their inevitable execution, which must occur so that he can complete his work. While we know from the start that the killers don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning any of their appeals, we still feel bad about the way Capote strings them along. But just when you think Capote is a complete bastard, some emotion creeps through during the powerful scene in which he says good-bye to them shortly before their executions. And, of course, we’re left with a brilliant book that wouldn’t have existed if Capote didn’t push the situation the way he did. There are plenty of shades of gray here for viewers who enjoy such things. I know I do.
Hoffman is brilliant in the lead role, playing a man who could charm the pants off just about anyone but could then callously stab that person in the back when it suited him. Catherine Keener is equally wonderful as the gracious Harper Lee, who obviously knew how to push Capote’s buttons better than almost anyone. However, once she achieves her own fame, he sadly becomes bitter toward her. In the end, he literally drank himself to death, estranged from even his high society friends, and never completed another book. There’s much speculation in the supplements that writing “In Cold Blood” devastated him emotionally, which, of course, is why we don’t need a biopic to get everything we need to understand Capote.
While I don’t typically focus too much on the audio and video presentation of the DVDs I review, I should point out that the print Sony used for this disc is clearly substandard. I felt like I was watching the movie in a theater, given the amount of crap that kept flicking across the screen. I was surprised by that, considering how far this medium has come in the past few years. It seems like most movies on DVD at least sport a decent video presentation these days.
Moving on to the supplements, we have a micro-featurette called “Answered Prayers,” which covers Capote’s life in less than 10 minutes. While something more in-depth would have been nice, Sony obviously did what pretty much all the film studios do these days: put together a release that’s good enough and then wait and see if a more elaborate edition is worthwhile. While double-dipping drives me crazy, I also understand that there are time constraints when it comes to producing and shipping DVDs of current films.
This disc also contains a pair of featurettes that cover the making of the film, from its inception to its conclusion. We get the usual interviews with the cast and crew, along with just enough information that, again, we realize Sony is simply hedging its bets to see if a full-blown Special Edition will be worth releasing somewhere down the road. I think “Capote” is one of those films that will stand the test of time and merit a 10th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray (or whatever the next-next generation format will be). You heard it here first.
Finally, we have a pair of audio commentaries, both of which feature director Bennett Miller. Philip Seymour Hoffman joins him on the first track, which is definitely the better of the two. He and Miller cover the gamut of topics, from on-set anecdotes to discussions about Capote himself. It’s a lively track with little dead air or mindless blather.
Director of photography Adam Kimmel chats with Miller in the second commentary, which should have also included screenwriter Dan Futterman, who had to bow out because of the birth of his daughter. As a fellow parent, I certainly understand why Futterman couldn’t show up, but his absence is clearly felt in this discussion. Miller repeats some of the information found in the first commentary, and much of the rest of it consists of the two of them patting each other on the back. I would have enjoyed hearing more from Futterman, who explains in the featurettes that he originated the project on his own. I’m sure he had much more to tell on that subject. Maybe we’ll hear from you on the next DVD, Dan.