At the height of his writing fame Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) becomes captivated by a small story in the New York Times about a family of four murdered in their Kansas farmhouse by a shotgun at close range. The diminutive bespectacled author known up to this point for Breakfast at Tiffanys and writing about the New York social scene heads out to Kansas for The New Yorker magazine with his assistant Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) who would later write To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee helps Capote fit into the small town that is rocked by the murders and introduces Capote to the townsfolk including the investigator Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) who is hot on the trail of the killers Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino). Lee keeps Capote in check as does his editor William Shawn (Bob Balaban) and longtime partner Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood). But Capote is transfixed by Smith and ends up spending a lot of time with him in jail after the trial. Inevitably the small Kansas town tragedy leads Capote to his definitive work In Cold Blood becoming an obsession for the self-indulgent author. Capote seemingly wants to help get Smith and Hickock an appeal after they are convicted to hang for the murders of the Clutter family. But truly he is more concerned with himself. He lies cajoles and fools himself as he toils over the book. He tells people rather callously that he hopes their appeals will end so he could have an ending to the book. And when they do hang Capote is there. But he never completes another book ever again.
After critics saw Hoffman's performance at the Toronto International Film Festival one of the prevailing thoughts is that he's this year's Jamie Foxx. He's the man to beat for the Best Actor Oscar for his spot-on portrayal of the irritatingly gifted writer who could get anyone to talk about anything. Hoffman is known for getting into his roles rather deeply but he can go overboard and has been known to milk his parts to the point of stealing attention away from everything else in the movie (think Cold Mountain or Red Dragon). But for Capote he's expected to be over the top. Not only will Hoffman most assuredly get a nomination but the movie could be a Best Picture contender as well as nominations for Keener Collins and Dan Futterman for the screenplay. Another nearly hidden but precious role is handled nicely by Amy Ryan as Marie Dewey the Kansas housewife who coos over Capote's visit to their community and ends up giving him the credibility to gain access to the mindset of the town.
Taking this true story to the big screen is certainly a challenge when you have the classic film In Cold Blood out there but Capote fills in a lot of the gaps that the previous film--and the book--leave out. And it is also telling that there are two films being been made about Capote during the time he wrote In Cold Blood. Have You Heard? starring Brit Toby Jones as the diminutive writer and Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee is due to be released in 2006. But Capote won the race--and could very well dampen the other's chances. Director Bennett Miller is old school chums with writer/actor Futterman and Hoffman--and Capote is obviously a labor of love between them. Futterman may get too wordy in a few of the scenes especially between Capote and Smith but under Miller's guidance they are tense moments nonetheless confined to a jail cell. Futterman had access to the actual letters between Capote and Smith and used them word for word in the script. Without comment Miller offers ugly sides to all the major characters and shows all of their duplicity in a stark and frank way. The film has a documentary feel to it sticking to the facts and avoiding any preachiness. It offers a window into the world of New Journalism and the poetic license seen in creative non-fiction and fictional biographies so prevalent today.
Set in what seems to be an idyllic 19th-century farming township The Village follows a close-knit community as they go about their daily lives. Soon however it becomes evident things aren't quite so simple. The villagers believe a race of ferocious mythological creatures lives in the woods surrounding their little valley but there's an unspoken truce between "Those We Don't Speak Of" and the townsfolk: don't go into their woods and they won't come chew up the town. That's all well and good until the quiet and resolute Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) messes up the works. He tries to convince the village elders they need better medical supplies for the sick and that he should go through the woods into the neighboring towns to get them. The elders including Lucius' mother Alice Hunt (Sigourney Weaver) advises him to stay put but the young man doesn't listen to their warnings and breaches the boundaries anyway ever so slightly effectively ending the truce. Uh-oh. Then there's Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard) the beautiful and spirited blind daughter of the town leader Edward Walker (William Hurt) who captures Lucius' heart. Needless to say things get twisted pretty quickly (we are talking about a Shyamalan film after all) and it's Ivy who must eventually face entering the dreaded woods. As the menacing presence looms over the town her bravery becomes the only thing that can save them. But you'll soon be asking from what? There's the rub.
Shyamalan has finally made a movie in which there are no soulful moody eerily intelligent children in it. OK so maybe you'll miss Sixth Sense's Haley Joel Osment and his pale face or Signs's Rory Culkin with his big eyes just a little. But luckily Shyamalan has found a new wonder--newcomer Bryce Dallas Howard who replaced Kirsten Dunst as Ivy. As the daughter of the Oscar-winning director Ron Howard it's easy to see how she got her foot in the door but what's surprising is how affecting she is as Ivy. Playing a blind girl who must gather the courage to battle unseen fears isn't new--Audrey Hepburn was probably the best in the 1967 Wait Until Dark--yet the talented Howard's naturally blithe and spunky personality brings her own freshness to the character. Phoenix is also quite heartbreaking as Lucius who desperately loves Ivy but has trouble letting her know his feelings. His only way is by protecting her. Their moments together are exquisitely touching; all she has to do is reach out as the townsfolk scurry for cover from impending danger and he is there--no matter what. In the supporting roles veterans Hurt and Weaver as well as the rest of the elders including Shyamalan favorite Cherry Jones (Signs) and Troy's Brendan Gleeson do a nice job as the town's secretive leaders. But it's Adrien Brody in his first real role since winning Best Actor for The Pianist who stands out as fellow villager Noah a mentally impaired man whose own feelings for Ivy take a tragic turn.
In a way M. Night Shyamalan has become his own worst enemy having to live up to this reputation as a master of horror and suspense cloaking his projects in secrecy and generating unnecessary hype. But the fact of the matter is he is one of Hollywood's more brilliant minds on par with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman for originality who has an innate talent for crafting individual moments of genuine human emotions. Like Twilight
Zone's Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock before him Shyamalan is more fascinated by how people react in frightening situations rather than just scaring the bejeezus out of you--and with The Village Shyamalan delves deeper into human psyche more than ever before examining the age-old saying "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Having shot the film in southeast Pennsylvania the director meticulously built this 19th-century universe from the ground up with the wooden cabins and handmade props--and painting a picture of how fear of the unknown can propel a group of people to come together in harmony. Yet regardless of how the fear of big scary monsters brings the villagers together audiences may be expecting big scary monsters to come out of the woods and therefore may not appreciate the somewhat anti-climactic albeit twisty ending.
As dean of a small college Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) has made a nice life for himself--until a false accusation of racism ruins his career and he loses his wife to a brain aneurysm. Suddenly Coleman has nothing--until he embarks on an intensely sexual relationship with Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman) a local woman with an abusive ex-husband Lester (Ed Harris) who won't leave her alone. The intensity of Coleman's love for Faunia leads him to reveal his long-held secret: He has been passing himself off as Jewish and white for most of his adult life but in reality he is a light-skinned African-American. From there a series of flashbacks to the 1940s introduce us to a younger love-struck Coleman (Wentworth Miller) and reveal the events that led him to his fateful decision. Somehow Coleman's deep dark secret isn't as shocking as it's probably meant to be but the relationship between Faunia and Coleman is--especially when it slips into the danger zone with Lester breathing down their necks.
Wentworth Miller who makes his film debut as the younger Coleman does an amazing job with his role establishing Coleman's quiet yet fierce determination to live a life free of intolerance. And as ever Hopkins is the consummate professional with flashes of intense passion and brilliance in his steely eyes. One does have to get over the fact that a Welsh actor has been cast as an elderly light-skinned African-American but if Hopkins can give nuance to a declaration of how Viagra has changed his character's life (ick) he can pull off the race thing easily enough. Kidman as the dour Faunia also has some stunning moments easily sinking to the depressive depths required of her character--not surprising considering she won the Oscar doing the same thing in The Hours. What really makes you clench your teeth though is when the two of them get together on screen--in the biblical sense. These Oscar winners are so sorely miscast as tortured lovebirds that their sexual moments make you squirm in your seat. It's not the age difference; there's simply no spark between them.
"We leave a stain a trail and imprint " Philip Roth writes in his novel the third in a trilogy on postwar America. "It's the only way to be here." The author goes on to explore myriad themes around this main premise including how we leave our marks how our decisions have consequences and how people can find one another under the direst circumstances. Unfortunately these big ideas get lost in translation on the big screen and the film suffers from adaptation blues. Director Robert Benton and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer gives Roth's ideas voice only through Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise) the reclusive author Coleman asks to write his life story and even that artistic character talks more about how sex is clouding Coleman's judgment than about his own life or ideology. Ultimately Meyer focuses his script too heavily on the guarded Coleman leaving the other characters too little developed. Why has Nathan secluded himself away from the world? What haunts him? Sinise does what he can with the character but there's too little background. The same goes for Faunia. Although she describes in one monologue after another the horrors of her life--she was abused as a girl and lost her two children in a terrible fire--Faunia's hardships seem distant and it's hard to connect with her character. Only the wounded Lester a Vietnam veteran seems made of real emotions and desires--he's filled with hatred and passion--and if he makes only a brief appearance in the film he certainly leaves a mark.