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To go back to where we began, this is not a story with a moral to it, although some viewers will feel compelled, for their own comfort, to draw one; it is simply, and complicatedly, the story of an artist at work. And of such stories on screen that typically stay on the outside looking in, it is among the finest. (The matchless example of looking at the work of an artist from the inside out: Alain Resnais's Providence.) In its general outline -- what price art? -- it may be a bit old-hat; in its particulars it is like-new.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, mimicking the familiar mannerisms of the title figure, or, as everyone seems to be saying these days, "channelling" him, probably deserves every accolade he gets. I would only like to throw in the qualification that, no matter how accurate, any actor's impersonation of a notable whose face and voice are well known, especially one whose face and voice are so distinctive, is bound to have a degree of funniness about it. Indeed the "impressionist," who fully intends to be funny in his impersonations, is always funnier the greater the degree of his accuracy. (The inaccurate impressionist elicits a response of "Who's that supposed to be?") This -- there's no getting around it -- is just a built-in obstacle to be overcome, or not. Time itself will be the actor's ally. The impersonation, as the minutes slip by, tends to supplant the model. We get used to it. We get over it. We accept it as its own thing. "I guess it stopped being funny," the Harper Lee character remarks at one point, apropos of something else. (The commendable Catherine Keener did not face the same problem. Who knows what Harper Lee looked or sounded like?) Much of that initial funniness is surely compatible with the early stages of the story, the fish-out-of-water stuff. Once the funniness stops, the deeper fascination takes over. Even then, however, Hoffman serves as our constant reminder to take the story with a grain of salt, to put quotation marks around the name of Capote. His whole-souled commitment to the part, his concentration, his emotion, his expressiveness, his nuance, his multiplicity -- all of that helps to make a good story better. Whether or not truer.

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