Laurelin's Light

Random Thoughts from a Confessed Film Snob

27 February 2006

Review - Capote

This film is, in a word, incredible.

It is well written, subtlety directed and beautifully acted.  The entire cast of “Capote” is top notch, but there are two supporting actors who stand out: Catherine Keener and Clifton Collins, Jr.  Keener is always fabulous and here she really shines in her portrayal of Harper Lee, who is the moral center of the picture.  Collins plays Perry Smith, the doomed object of Truman Capote’s affection and of his scorn.  His performance is deeply moving as he latches onto Capote as his last hope for a meaningful human connection.

And, of course, headlining the picture is the incredible Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Hoffman, in collaboration with director Bennett Miller and screenwriter Dan Futterman, has created an absolutely compelling portrait of Truman Capote as a man tormented by contradicting desires.   He physically portrayed Capote very convincingly, but his real triumph in this film is not in parroting Capote's speech and mannerisms but in mirroring his tortured soul.

In researching his "nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood, about the brutal murder of a rural Kansas family in November 1959, Truman Capote developed a relationship of sorts with Perry Smith, one of the killers.  At one point in the film, Capote complains that his lover Jack Dunphy has accused him of using Smith on the one hand and of falling in love with him on the other.  He wonders aloud how both of those things could be true, but what this film shows us is that for Capote both of those extremes were indeed possible at the same time.

Capote did love Smith - as a brother or otherwise - but his affection for the man could not compete with his one true love: his own prestige.  Capote knew that In Cold Blood would be a masterpiece, but he needed two things for that to happen:  he needed Smith to tell him about the killings and he needed Smith to die.  As long as Smith was alive the story had no end and a good ending is the most important part of any story.

It is compelling and devastating to watch Capote toy with Smith to get what he wants, to make himself useful to the man in order to use him and to blatantly lie to him to keep him invested in their “friendship.”

In real life, people are torn by conflicting desires every day.  In real life, people constantly trick themselves into thinking that what they do is right, even when they know that what they are doing is wrong.  This unfortunate human quality is seen all too rarely in films, where characters are usually black or white, good or bad.  As a result, most movie characters are completely forgettable.  “Capote” is anything but forgettable.  

I never thought much about Truman Capote before seeing this film.  I expect that I will be thinking about him a lot from now on.


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