random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Thursday, January 12, 2006

REEL REVIEWS: Capote (2005) ****

Capote (2005) poster
R (for violent images and brief strong language)
1 hr. 54 min.
written by: Dan Futterman (screenplay) & Gerald Clarke (book)
produced by: Caroline Baron, Michael Ohoven, & William Vince
directed by: Bennet Miller


A coupla Fridays ago, Adrian and I went and saw this movie after work.

My intention was to play catch-up with the list of all the movies that I've been wanting to see and this film happened to be one of them. Primarily those films that have received acclaimed reviews and award noms. It's hard to convince others to go see a movie that has been little seen but widely praised and is about a person not too many know about. I did my best to sell Adrian on it and after he saw the trailer online, he was up for it.

The movie is a biopic based on what Capote and those around him went through as he did research for his book, "In Cold Blood." In the movie, Capote coins the foreign (at the time) term "non-fiction novel". The book and his approach would go on to change the way people looked at and wrote about true crime and non-fiction stories.


"Capote" was on my list mainly for the talk of Philip Seymour Hoffman giving such a superb performance as American writer, Truman Capote. It was announced yesterday by the National Society of Film Critics that "Capote" had won the best picture award of 2005 and Best Actor for Hoffman. he also won Best Actor at the Critics Choice awards last night for this role. In recent weeks it has been awarded nominations for Best Actor from the Screen Actors Guild and Best Director for Bennett Miller from the Directors Guild of America.

The movie is that good to warrant all those noms and awards but it's not for those with short attention span or for those who are used to whiz-bang special effects out of there movie experiences. It's about real people and the effect one individuals self-absorption and obsession has on others.




Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote and Catherine Keener as Nelle Harper Lee in Sony Pictures Classics' Capote




By 1959, Capote (pronounced Ka-poe-tee) was writing for The New Yorker and was already quite famous for writing the novel that inspired the film, "Breakfast at Tiffany's." He was a well known figure among the wealthy Manhattan social circles. He was an eccentric character, openly gay, as much known for his high-pitched voice, outrageous manner of dress, and wild fabrications about acquaintances and events, as he was his literary talent. It was because of these characteristics that he was considered an outsider pretty much wherever he went.
Around this time he was looking for his next "great work" to write. He found it on November 15th, as he was reading he noticed an article about four members of a Kansas farm family who were shotgunned to death. This intrigued Capote enough to contact his editor William Shawn (Bob Balaban) and convince him that he should be sent out to Holcomb, Kansas to do an article on this story. He feels it presents an opportunity, he believes, to test his long-held theory that, in the hands of the right writer, non-fiction can be as compelling as fiction.
Capote also sees this tragedy as a clash of cultures coming together. There is the killer (or killers) and then there is the Clutter family, a middle-class, well-respected, small town family. It was reported that the entire family was murdered in the middle of the night after a break in. Why did this happen? Why was this family picked? What impact has this had on the townspeople? These are the questions that Capote initially takes with him as he travels to Holcomb.
Accompanying him is his friend from his childhood, writer Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) who kinda keeps Capote "in check. Because the personage of Capote is such a contrast, Lee acts as a sort of, translator. She understand him. She gets him where no one else would. Kansas folk may not know what to do with such a charismatic and eccentric character but they and she knows it. She is there for Capote and everyone around him in an effort for the well-known writer to be not necessarily respected but at least understood. She also serves as his conscience as he becomes obsessed in his pursuit of the story in an effort to help him keep any type of morality or sensitivity intact. Truly we see the story working on Capote as well as him working on the story.
First stop for Capote and Lee upon arriving is the local law enforcement where they meet Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) the agent from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation in charge of the case. As others around him are kinda put off by his peculiar behavior, Capote wins the acceptance of Dewey, yet not by much. In hopes of letting him know that he's just doing a story on the community, Capote tells Dewey, "I don't care one way or the other if you catch who did this," which doesn't sit too well with Dewey. It's his case and his community and he is determined to find out what happened to this family.
The way in which Capote goes about researching the event is often quite manipulative and at times creepy. He tried to relate to a girlfriend of one of the Clutter daughters, when he says, "Ever since I was a child, folks have thought they had me pegged, because of the way I am, the way I talk." Lee is there with him, she can see it but he does indeed succeed in gaining the confidence of the girl. He even somehow manages to view the four dead bodies in the funeral home. We see him look underneath the cloth wrapped around the mutilated heads of the family members. Later, he tells his lover, writer Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood) over the phone that he found his private peek fascinating.
Then two drifters, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Richard Hickock (Mark Pelligrino), are apprehended and soon sentenced to death. Finding himself increasingly drawn to the story by the sentence, Truman begins personally interviewing the murderers, particularly Perry Smith, at their maximum security prison. Avoiding discussion of the murders themselves, Capote learns more about their lives outside of crime, finding a humanity never put into print before and causing him to extend his article into a full-length novel. It would be the first True Crime novel ever written.
His extensive interviews with Smith lead to a strange relationship open to many terms of controversial interpretation. He feels compelled to assist the men and lead the world's opinion away from demonizing headlines. Capote even goes to lengths to find them a decent lawyer for their Supreme Court appeal although that act seems to be more an effort to prolong their lives for his novel. Yet, it kinda backfires for him in a way. When we see him give a reading of the book in New York, the audience was unprepared to deal with such a humanizing look at such vicious attacks. It certainly reinforces for some Capote's reputation for the peculiar.
Cinematographer Adam Kimmel opens the film on a gray prairie where only the Clutter's lone house stands. It sets the color palette of dark tones and earthy colors that portray a quiet, cold feel for the film even in the New York scenes. At times, it was almost like watching an Edward Hopper painting come to life.

The film is yet another biopic that succeeds in peeling the layers of a famous character to reveal (in Capote's case) the insecurities and selfishness that propels him to greatness. There is no typical hard living, drug addictions, or affairs here that are common in most "based-on-a-true-story" films. Instead we see a talented master manipulator face himself and his muse in a way unseen till now.
I mentioned above that the movie isn't for everybody. that's probably why not too many have heard about it. Some may walk out and think it too depressing or slow. Well, that may be the case but it is also one of the most well-acted, character-driven, and enthralling stories on the screen in 2005. Unfortunately, this will never be a movie that will be number one at the box office (which is kinda fitting considering the main character was such an outsider) but it will be a movie that will linger with you long after it envelopes you.

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