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NYFF: “Capote.”

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"It's the book I was meant to write."Joan Didion once wrote something about how, no matter what they say to assure you otherwise, writers never have your best interests in mind when they convince you to talk to them. She puts it much better, and we wish we had the quote on hand, but it’s been a while since we carried "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" with us wherever we went (oh, you wish we were kidding — also, we suspect the line is actually in "The White Album," anyway). Early in Bennett Miller‘s "Capote," Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing the titular writer, arrives at the house of Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper, who’s as always so compelling one wishes he would get allotted more than ten minutes of screen time per film). He’s looking for information on the crime Dewey is investigating — the brutal murder of a family of four — for an article in the New Yorker, credentials that didn’t go nearly as far, at his first meeting with Dewey, as they would have in New York. Now he, accompanied by his good friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), pre-publication of "To Kill a Mockingbird," sets out to charm. He gossips, he entertains, he drop celebrity names, and then, shamelessly, segues into a story about his mother’s death. That wins over Dewey’s wife, who demands of her husband that he give the two whatever they need. "These are good people!" she says, but the camera cuts to Hoffman’s face: held high, closed, but triumphant, even a bit smug. Truman Capote is not good people — in many ways, he’s a right bastard.

Miller’s film, from an excellent script by Dan Futterman, based off Gerald Clarke’s biography, assumes audiences are familiar with Capote’s pivotal "nonfiction novel" "In Cold Blood" — the underlying certainty of the man’s brilliance is left unspoken to counterweight the complicated and not-so-flattering portrait the film presents. It begins with Capote already well established as a writer and a society fixture — he goes to Kansas on a bit of a whim, and is initially out of his element, but soon inveigles himself into the reluctant good graces of the locals and, eventually, the two murderers.

It’s Perry Smith, the one who did the actually killing, who catches Capote’s eye. Half Indian, polite and intelligent, an orphan from a terrible background, he hopelessly intrigues Capote, and their relationship is the dark, complex heart of the film. Capote sets out, in a sense, to seduce Smith’s story out of him, but ends up getting more involved than he ever planned, becoming something between a friend and a vampiric figure, cajoling and bullying him for the sake of his book ("Sometimes, when I think how good my book could be, I can hardly breathe," he tells a friend) and sometimes stepping in, getting the pair a lawyer for their appeal, only to then disappear for months and not return the otherwise completely alone Smith’s pathetic letters. It’s hard to guess how Capote really feels about Smith beyond seeing him as source material; both Keener’s Lee and Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood), Capote’s long-term lover, try to sound him out, but it appears that he doesn’t know himself, though he once eloquently lets slide that "It’s as if Perry and I grew up in the same house, and one day I went out the front door and Perry went out the back."

Hoffman’s performance is a tour de force — there’s no way he won’t be nominated for an Oscar. But it is so very much a virtuous act that sometimes the film seems to grind to a halt around him while he struts and frets, while generally outstanding actors like Keener and Greenwood are pulled into his orbit.

We’re totally rambling on, but this is a hard film to get one’s thoughts in order for. It’s very smart, and in the end very well done, but much of it is as icy as the bleak Kansas winter landscape elegantly shot in the opening sequences. The myth of journalistic remove, perhaps — in the end, we’re just as caught up as Capote in what happens to Perry Smith. By that time, for him, it was too late.

"Capote" opens in limited release on September 30.

Click here for all the NY Film Festival reviews thus far.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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