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Review: 'Capote' one of year's best

Hoffman gives Oscar-worthy performance

By Paul Clinton

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote and Catherine Keener as Nelle Harper Lee in "Capote."



Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper, Bob Balaban, Clifton Collins Jr.

Directed by: Bennett Miller

Screenplay by: Dan Futterman

Studio: Sony Pictures Classics

Rated: R


Philip Seymour Hoffman

(CNN) -- Let me put this bluntly: "Capote" is, without a doubt, one of the best films of the year.

And Philip Seymour Hoffman -- who delivers a brilliant performance -- is a sure bet for a best actor nomination come Oscar time. (You can start your Oscar pools now.)

Hoffman doesn't impersonate the eccentric author; instead he appears to embody him. He never overly imitates the well-known, and often mocked, speech patterns or mannerisms of the man, but rather nails his essences without turning to parody. (It's saying something that Hoffman, who stands 5-foot-10, effortlessly captures the diminutive Capote without ever calling attention to his height.)

The film begins in the late '50s when Capote, fresh off the success of "Breakfast at Tiffany's," reads a short newspaper article in The New York Times about the slaying of a rural Kansas family, the Clutters. Capote decides the topic is perfect for The New Yorker magazine, an article in which he will show the effect of such a brutal murder on the inhabitants of a small town.

In the company of his childhood companion, Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) -- soon to write her one and only novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird" -- Capote sets off for the small farm community of Holcomb, Kansas, where the Clutters were killed. Lee's soft side helps Capote ingratiate himself in the close-knit, and somewhat intolerant, community, and Capote starts interviewing people.

Chris Cooper plays Capote's police guide, Kansas investigator Alvin Dewey, and he's brilliant as usual. Clifton Collins Jr. and Mark Pelligrino, as killers Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, play a cat-and-mouse game with Capote, always realizing deep down that it's the story, not their lives, that compels the author.

Indeed, Smith and Capote's relationship entered some gray areas beyond that of subject and reporter, and Collins uses that knowledge to the hilt.

As for Capote, the article became a book, and after awhile he knew that "In Cold Blood," the book that resulted from his reporting, could only have one ending that would be satisfactory as literature -- that of the killers' deaths. He would twist himself into knots waiting for it, divided between the humanity of caring about his real-life characters and the more brutal desire to satiate his own ego.

"Capote" was directed by Bennett Miller and written by actor-turned-screenwriter Dan Futterman, childhood friends who have been pursuing this project for years. Both do an exceptional job with their first major film. Keener is amazing; after years of playing brassy characters in such films as "Being John Malkovich," she shows an entirely new side with Lee.

But, without diminishing the contributions of all "Capote's" participants, this is Hoffman's film. He's a delight. Truman Capote was a complicated and competitive man with many demons; Hoffman conveys all sides of him to perfection, letting you see the man behind the glasses, the voice, the pouting humor.

Capote, with typical hyperbole, once said that writing "In Cold Blood" was the reason he was born. I'll indulge in hyperbole as well: Hoffman was born to play this role. Here's looking forward to acknowledgment of his triumph at Oscar time.

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