Capote – 2005
The book, In Cold Blood, written by Truman Capote, was a work that is described as a non-fiction novel. It is a novelization of the true events surrounding the murder of an entire Kansas family, the Cutlers, by Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. But as such, a few fictional details and events were included to enhance the drama of the narrative. The same can be said of the movie Capote, which is a portrait of the author during the writing of this popular crime novel. A few of the events portrayed in the film were altered for dramatic effect or completely invented.
But it’s OK. The real reason we went to see the movie was to see Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance as the eccentric author, Truman Capote. Capote was such an interesting character with a very specific look, distinctly prissy mannerisms, and a unique, feminine way of speaking, and Hoffman really did a fantastic job. In fact, he won the Oscar for Best Actor for his work, an honor I think he deserved.
But that’s not to say that the whole narrative wasn’t well-written and accurate. All the major plot points were covered and the details were spot-on. The movie was a portrait of the novelist and showed how doing the research for In Cold Blood, changed him as an author, and ad a human being. The emotional journey of Capote as he conducted interviews and gathered information about the infamous murder case was incredible.
The novel is widely considered a work of art, frightening in its brutal description of the horrific subject matter. Capote even went so far as to befriend one of the killers in order to get to the deep dark heart of the story. Such total immersion into the mind and life of the murderer, Perry Smith, really messed with Capote’s own emotional stability. He used his friendship with the convict as a tool, a means to an end, a subject for what he knew would be one of the great works of his career.
When Capote reads of the murders in a newspaper, he becomes instantly fascinated and decides he wants to write about it. He invites his friend, Harper Lee, author of the famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird, played by Catherine Keener, to join him as his research assistant. The two travel to Kansas to visit the house in which the murders took place, talk to the police, and conduct interviews with people who knew the victims. He even befriends Alvin Dewey, the lead detective in the murder case, played by Chris Cooper, in order to gain access to police files and reports.
But when, by chance, Capote meets Perry Smith, played by Clifton Collins Jr., his research becomes more personal. He spends so much time with Smith that he grows emotionally attached to him. He goes to the trial where Smith and his partner, Dick Hickock, played by Mark Pelligrino, are convicted and sentenced to death. Well, that wouldn’t do for Capote. How could he write his book if the subjects were executed before he could interview them? So he hires them a lawyer so that they can make appeals all the way up to the Supreme Court. He befriends Smith and lies to him in order to get his story. Capote sacrifices his own morals and self-respect to achieve his own goals.
The movie’s big emotional climax came at the very end when the murderers are finally hanged for their crimes. Smith asks Capote, who he has come to regard as his only friend, to witness his execution by hanging. Capote is in tears as he says goodbye to Smith and the horrible experience just exacerbates his emotional fragility. But as he later relays the tale to Harper Lee, he laments that he could do nothing to stop the sentence from being carried out, to which she replies, “Maybe not. The fact is you didn’t want to.”
I guess, in retrospect, the main thrust of the film asks an important question. How far will an author, or in this case, arguably, an artist, go in pursuit of his art? How much of his own integrity as a human being is he willing to compromise to achieve his magnum opus? In the case of Truman Capote, all the way. He apparently held nothing back. It was as if he sold his soul to write his remarkable novel, the likes of which had never been written. Capote never finished another book.
A significant subplot in the film dealt with Truman’s long-suffering, but always supportive lover, Jack Dunphy, played by Bruce Greenwood. Capote became so obsessive about writing his book that he neglected Jack, causing a certain amount of tension. I liked Greenwood’s understated performance, which, I have learned in my research, was perfectly appropriate. Dunphy was more of a quiet and solitary man, whereas Capote was very much a flamboyant social butterfly. Their strained relationship was portrayed as romantic, but non-sexual.
But the movie was good. In fact, I was so engrossed in the story that the two hour movie seemed to take no time at all. And the entire cast did a great job. Special props to Keener and Collins, and even Bob Balaban as William Shaw, editor of The New Yorker Magazine, for whom Capote worked. But they were all outshined by Hoffman’s phenomenal portrayal of Truman Capote. Like I said, his performance is really what we all came to see.