Capote Review

Truman Capote was a man full of ambiguity. More than just an author, he was a huge personality, always the most electric in a room. His clever wit and brutal honesty was displayed through his work and in his social life. But there was a dark side to Capote, a manipulative exploitation of anything that could elevate his fame.

To accurately show the essence of Capote in a proper light, director Bennett Miller’s Capote presents these personal ambiguities through Capote’s work ethic. The film documents Capote’s efforts to write “In Cold Blood,” which went on to have huge success nationwide.

Like Capote’s book, the film has bleak tone and is, at times, frustrating. Capote’s motives are never clearly revealed, which keeps the viewer from making a clear judgment on the man’s morality.

Capote begins in 1959, when Truman-played by a note-perfect Philip Seymour Hoffman- is given an assignment by the New Yorker to investigate the murder of an entire family in (Kansas). At first thought, Capote believes the story will take a week, after which he can go back to his lavish lifestyle and forget the whole thing. However, after Truman meets Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.), the accused, he becomes obsessed with the man. Truman thinks Perry’s personality isn’t that of a killer and perhaps he isn’t the real murderer.

Capote’s obsession leads him to stay in Kansas for a year trying to get access to Perry by any means necessary. Truman’s celebrity, combined with his gift of gab, help him to get closer to the accused.

As the two men’s relationship advances into something resembling friendship, it’s hard to tell what is driving Capote. Is it to advance his career? Capote was already a sensation at the time of the writing. Was it because he cared for Perry? There are several scenes that suggest Capote did have a connection with Perry, but, towards the end, it seems that Truman’s feelings might not have been sincere.

Perhaps it was the drive to create a new kind of art that drove Capote. In one scene, Truman talks to his publisher on a pay phone about the assignment. Excitement leaps into Truman’s voice as he explains that he is working on a new kind of writing, the non-fiction novel.

As history has shown, people will do some pretty irrational things in the name of art. Once the obsession with perfecting an idea is instilled, there’s no telling to what depths an artist will let themselves go. Perhaps Capote felt that Perry Smith was his canvas, his Sistine Chapel. He justified the constant manipulation of Perry by believing that what he created would change the world. He ignored any innate sense of moral righteousness because it got in the way of his book. Does prodigical art give the artist a free pass when it comes to responsibility? Should you, like they say, admire the art, not the artist? The film raises questions like these among others.

Despite how you may feel about Perry through the course of the film, when he finally describes the actual murder, you can’t help but feel betrayed by the lack of humanity the murder shows. The murder scene reminded me of Dead Man Walking when Sean Penn is shown killing his victim. After spending the previous hour and a half becoming attached and even understanding a murderer, the act itself defies all logic.

Evidenced by his Academy Award win, Philip Seymour Hoffman does an impeccable version of Capote. You forget that it’s an actor that you’re watching as Hoffman completely becomes Truman Capote. Hoffman has been one of the most underrated actors in the past decade, stealing every scene in films such as Boogie Nights and Magnolia. My personal favorite is his deeply troubled obscene caller in Todd Solondz’ Happiness. It’s good to finally see him getting some recognition.

Catherine Keener also gives a convincing performance as Harper Lee, who helped Capote with his research. Keener provides the moral balance to Capote’s megalomania, always doubtful of Capote’s true motives. You have to wonder whether Capote’s superstardom caused Lee to later live a hermit lifestyle.

Miller’s Capote gives us a window into the mind of one of the most notorious writers and characters of the 20th century. The ambiguities leave many unresolved answers but challenge the viewer to delve further into the work of Truman Capote.

"Capote" opens September 30, 2005 and is rated R. Drama. Directed by Bennett Miller. Written by Dan Futterman. Starring Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Clifton Collins Jr.



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