Film Reviews

CAPOTE (Victoria)

By • Feb 3rd, 2006 •

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Sony Pictures Classics
A United Artists, Sony Pictures Classics presentation of an A-Line Pictures, Cooper’s Town Productions, Infinity Media production

Dull. “The Tiny Terror” is presented as uninteresting and a watered-down passive-aggressive writer for our PC consumption.

“There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.”
Saint Teresa of Avila

The filmmakers neglected to note that Capote’s epitaph was from Saint Teresa of Avila.

As a New Yorker, my social life, by choice, was gay. While my private life was exclusively heterosexual, I preferred the constant, daily company of my gay male friends. I have always liked the gay man’s view of the world. As “outsiders,” gay men see society and culture differently. With confidence I can say I know the gay world very well.

Truman Capote was the lionized writer of the wildly successful, beloved ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’ He knew everyone who was rich and famous. He had a whiny, affected voice no one had or will ever have. He created a distinctive persona that was exaggerated, extravagant, and peculiar.

The real Truman Capote could never be the subject of a movie. He was an iconoclast and a snob. However, he did write a breathtaking non-fiction novel that revolutionized literature. There is an interesting story hidden beneath this sanitized version of events, but we never see it. For us, Truman is watered-down and cooled off. The filmmakers give us just a thread of the real Capote. They must have thought that was all we could take.

CAPOTE begins with Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) already a literary darling. We get a glimpse of his cocktail party temperament. He is always the center of attention. He has manufactured a riveting public personality that he eventually exploited on TV. But Truman is an “outsider.”

In 1959 Truman sees an article in the newspaper about the brutal murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. He tells his magazine editor he wants to do a story on the effect of the murders on the community. Taking his childhood friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) along as his research assistant, Truman ingratiates himself by bringing gifts and spending relaxing time with the townsfolk. He never appears to be judgmental or intentionally using these common people for his own selfish ends. We like Truman. He seems sincere. He makes friends with Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper), the Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent, by having lazy dinner with his family. When the Clutter killers are caught, Truman has already established himself in the inner circle.

CAPOTE is based on Gerald Clarke’s biography but only covers the time Truman spent with the Clutter killers until their deaths by hanging in 1965. Screenwriter Dan Futterman and director-co-screenwriter Bennett Miller manage to pull off a balancing act, though I was disappointed with the sly telling of what must have been a volatile relationship between Truman and one of the killers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.)

Why did Truman choose Smith? Here he appears to completely ignore co-killer Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino). Prisoners are notoriously needy but Smith appears disinterested in all the attention until Truman stops paying for lawyers and appeals. After all, without the execution, there would be no end to his book.

Truman’s reputation was so well known that the writers could not strike from the official record his abandonment and final disinterest in his relationship with Smith. They do make him likeable even though they are compelled to acknowledge his ruthlessness. They soften Truman by making him constantly refer to his “outsider” status and sad childhood.

Wasn’t there the tiniest bit of glamour and excitement about being so accepted by a hardened killer and having unlimited access to him? Truman’s inner male would have loved the proximity to killers and their acceptance of him.

All the psychological meanderings aside, CAPOTE offends my movie rule of “No Reading To The Audience.” Make the story so interesting that I go out and buy “In Cold Blood.” Don’t read me passages!

My biggest complaint about CAPOTE was how dull it was. Where was the flamboyant Truman or the alcoholic “Tiny Terror” who finally pooped all over his wealthy friends by writing about their off-marital assignations and peccadilloes? Instead we get the subdued Truman who “related” to the killers as “outsiders.”

Yes, Hoffman gives an interesting, though highly controlled, performance. It was a wise choice since Hoffman (listed as one of the four executive producers, which indicates his nurturing of the project) is more suited to channeling Truman Capote than his work as the star of “LOVE, LISA” and “OWNING MAHONEY.” I briefly met Hoffman at the National Board of Review’s annual awards some years ago. Hoffman was there representing THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY. I insulted him by inferring – wrongly – that his character was in love with Dickie Greenlaw.

Truman Capote: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Nelle Harper Lee: Catherine Keener
Perry Smith: Clifton Collins Jr.
Alvin Dewey: Chris Cooper
Jack Dunphy: Bruce Greenwood
William Shawn: Bob Balaban
Dick Hickock: Mark Pellegrino

Director: Bennett Miller
Writer: Dan Futterman
Based on the book by: Gerald Clarke
Producers: Caroline Baron, William Vince, Michael Ohoven
Executive producers: Don Futterman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kerry Rock, Danny Rosett
Director of photography: Adam Kimmel
Production designer: Jess Gonchor
Costumes: Kasia Walicka-Maimone
Music: Mychael Danna
Editor: Christopher Tellefsen

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