One of the more delightfully catty, possibly-imaginary gossipy Oscar moments was when Heath Ledger lost out on the Best Actor Oscar to Hoffman and proceeded to tell a confidante that the prize was for Best acting, not Most acting. It’s a funny lie with a kernel of truth to it: there’s an awful lot of acting going on in Capote, a smoky drama that follows Truman Capote on his quest to write In Cold Blood. Hoffman’s gestures are mannered and theatrical, but those who knew Capote (captured here as often vain and petty) would understand this was an actor creating a simulation driven larger to interrogate the whole of Capote’s writing. Capote is heavy afternoon viewing, but Hoffman’s achingly precise performance, which amusingly pits Capote’s morals against his own egotism, is more than entertaining enough.

This is a very little seen drama, one where Hoffman plays a gambling addict far over his head. The film didn’t receive any traction because it is enormously understated: as much as a capital-A Actor Hoffman was, he could also re-create the sad milieu of everyday life on his face. Hoffman sports a pretty gnarly mustache in this, and he’s pitted against Minnie Driver as his exasperated wife, in a character piece that spans several years and ultimately builds to a very subtle, tragic outcome. Owning Mahowny is based on a true story, but only Hoffman makes you believe that you’re watching a true story.

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