Oh, how I miss Philip Seymour Hoffman. Don’t worry, I’m not going to count the ways. “Capote” is a film that I have been meaning to watch for a decade, but I only recently got around to. The movie got mostly rave reviews, and Hoffman won an Oscar for his portrayal of Truman Capote. All the acclaim was well deserved.
“Capote,” directed by Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Foxcatcher) is not a cradle to grave biopic. It’s part of the trend of taking a moment in time, or a turning point, and making a film about it. I like this trend. There have been any number of movies about authors and reporters going about their vocation. Truman Capote was a bit of both–and so much more.
After reading a newspaper story about the murders of four members of the Clutter family from Holcolm, Kansas, Truman Capote (Hoffman) calls the editor of the New Yorker, William Shawn, (Bob Balaban) and pitches him the idea of a story about how this small town is dealing with such a horrific tragedy. It wasn’t long before Capote realized that this was too gripping for a single article. And about seven years later, the novel In Cold Blood was published, and soon thereafter, became a film. The book made Capote the most famous author in America, but fame came with a cost.
I haven’t read In Cold Blood, and I haven’t seen the entire movie. While these may be shortcomings on my part, I did come into “Capote” with a bit of a blank slate. All I knew about the murders committed in 1959 were the basics. As the movie progressed, I became more and more engrossed.
On his trip to Kansas, Capote brought along Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) to be his “research assistant and personal bodyguard.” Capote spent so much time waiting for the arrest, trial, and appeals to play out, that Lee had time to write To Kill a Mockingbird, and the subsequent film was made. Capote didn’t want to publish his book until he found out exactly what happened, straight from the mouths of the murderers.
The convicted killers, Perry Smith and Richard “Dick” Hickock were played by Clifton Collins Jr. and Mark Pellegrino, respectively. I cannot compare their performances to those of Robert Blake and Scott Wilson from In Cold Blood, but the actors in “Capote” were well cast. Collins Jr. in particular doesn’t get enough credit. He made me believe that not only was he a cold blooded killer, but that Capote would fall for him. Collins Jr. should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor, especially when you consider George Clooney won for Syriana. No offense to Mr. Clooney, but does anyone remember that movie?
This film made me believe that Truman Capote both found and lost himself while working on In Cold Blood. In “Capote,” he talks about being an outsider growing up in Alabama, an outsider living in New York City, and an outsider visiting Kansas. I cannot speak for the latter two, but it’s not hard to be an outsider in the South, even if you have lived here all your life. But that’s another story.
At first, Agent Alvin Dewey of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (Chris Cooper) has no time for Capote, because he has more pressing matters. He eventually comes around, because his wife, Marie, (Amy Ryan) is a fan of Capote’s novels. Here Capote is in middle America, telling stories about Hollywood stars to “average” people. And they’re hanging on every word. In New York, who knows how those in his social circle really feel about him. Creative types are notorious for being a jealous lot, but it seems the adoration in Kansas is genuine.
Speaking of jealous, Capote’s long time partner, Jack Dunphy, (Bruce Greenwood) could tell that Capote had feelings for Perry Smith, and it became a bit of a sticking point. Dunphy would keep asking Capote how much longer he planned on staying in Kansas, since he was going to Spain to write his own book.
I knew less than nothing about Dunphy prior to watching “Capote,” but a brisk read of the Wikipedia entry about his life made me interested. I would also like to know more about Capote’s friendship with Harper Lee. Maybe I should read the biography of Truman Capote by Gerald Clarke, from which screenwriter Dan Futterman based the script for this film.