Monday, April 10, 2006

Capote (Movie Review)

Truman Capote: I couldn't have done anything to save them.
Nelle Harper Lee: Maybe not, Truman. But the truth is, you didn't want to.



Though familiar with Truman Capote's manner of speaking before I watched this film, nothing short of talking to the man himself could've prepared for it.

In fact, I was more than 15 minutes into Capote (2005) before I could hear the words without being caught up on his voice: peculiar at best; outright irritating, at worst.

I've heard a lot of people say they wish this film had been a more comprehensive biography — that it catalogued his whole life, rather than just the three years during which he researched and composed his groundbreaking nonfiction novel In Cold Blood (1966). And while I admit his life is interesting enough to warrant such a biography — from his rearing by an abusive mother, to the alcoholism that would eventually take his life (and all of the glitz, glamour, depression, fame & fortune in-between) — I don't think it's necessary.

Sometimes the best way to understand a person is to see how they handle themselves in a difficult situation. And from what we see in Capote, this writer was more complex than the flamboyant caricature so often associated with him. Not to mention, there's a lot we can infer just from the three years covered in the film: from his childhood to his present personal life; from his friendship with Harper Lee (played well by Catherine Keener) to how he communicates with his life partner, you don't need to literally show Capote at various life stages to convey the same eventual point.

I like to think it was in that spirit that Bennett Miller directed Capote. And while I certainly don't think this direction was to a detriment — quite the contrary — I was nevertheless disappointed by this film. With all of the hype that led up to this year's Oscar's, I had expected to be blown away. That didn't happen. I have nothing but my high expectations to blame, since I admired so much else of the production.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of Truman Capote is no exception. Hoffman delivers a believable performance: he's convincing enough, in fact, that I found myself actually drawn to murderer Perry Smith, who Capote is interviewing — somewhat sympathetically — for his book. I was even disgusted with Capote for "using" Smith simply for financial gain, and then nearly abandoning him after Smith's purpose had been served.

It speaks well of Hoffman that I was able to feel these emotions while watching the film, particularly when you consider how close Capote grew to Smith. He used him, sure. He lied to him. But he was also still somehow attracted to Perry: they had similarly traumatic childhoods, and they're both intelligent and artistic... but Capote was fascinated by how their respective lives varied in adulthood. And that comes across well in the film.

I have to wonder, though: is this a film about Capote? Or is Capote's experience researching and writing In Cold Blood really a vehicle for a statement against capital punishment?

Even if it is the latter, the statement is still far more subtle than the euthanasia message in last year's unfortunate hit, Million Dollar Baby.

(That's my second negative plug for Baby today. I'll likely reference it again whenever I discuss a movie that waxes political.)

But back to Capote: it's not bad. Keep an eye out for Keener; she's excellent as Harper Lee, and I wish there'd been more of her.

1 comment:

Winter said...

I rented this movie the other night.. I drifted off just as Perry was shooting people in the face.. I woke up 500 millions times during the night expecting someone to break into my house looking for 10,000 dollars.. so thanks a lot..