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Capote
Reviewed by Carla Freccero
Review Date: 11.08
.05 & 11.09.05

Capote is directed by Bennett Miller and stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as the flamboyantly effeminate novelist and New Yorker journalist Truman Capote, who wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's and a final masterpiece, In Cold Blood, characterized as a non-fictional novel. This is the story of the researching for and writing of that work, a story that begins in the 50s when Capote first reads a New York Times article about the murder of the Clutters, a rural Kansas family of four, in their home. Hoffman's co-star is Catherine Keener who plays Nelle Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, and who offsets and humanizes Hoffman's quite cold blooded, if passionate, Capote, as does Jack, Capote's lover (played by Bruce Greenwood). If it weren't for those two, we might well regard Truman Capote as more monstrous than the killers he interviews.

These two, Perry (Clifton Collins Jr) and Richard (Mark Pellegrino), turn out to be interesting characters, Perry especially, and in some ways the movie is about him as well, and about the identification and desire between him and Truman. Both poor kids with sick, dead or negligent mothers and abandoned to relatives or an orphanage, they become entangled in each other's lives and stories. But it's clear who has all the power-Truman-and as the film progresses, it becomes less clear how much of the closeness is a ruse, at least until the end. For Capote is a master at eliciting intimate speech from his interviewees, able to exploit his queeniness and his power of attraction to the fullest to lull and seduce the unsuspecting. This quality, which Hoffman impeccably conveys, serves to emphasize the killer Perry's heartbreaking vulnerability and trust to haunting effect. We are torn throughout this movie, troubled by our pity for the killers and Capote's exploitation of them even as we're treated to photographs and stories of the murder.

This is a captivating film that raises deeply troubling questions about the ethics of reporting, questions made even more troubling by what one senses as the compelling and intimate emotional connection between Truman and Perry, a connection that remains ambiguously charged from beginning to end. You're left wondering what, exactly, Capote feels for this condemned man and Hoffman's command performance allows you to vacillate between belief in Capote's sincerity and horror at his ruthless desire to exploit his subjects, to mine them for all they are worth. But it is to the movie's credit that the audience never loses sight of this problem, that, long after the film is over, we keep wondering about the choices Capote made. It is also to the movie's credit, or perhaps to the credit of Hoffman's acting, that though we might conclude that Capote was a monster too, we are given insight into the profound and complex set of motives and feelings that inform both his ambition and his relationship to Perry. That he never wrote another book, that he grew up and lived a ridiculed and sometimes tolerated outsider whose ambition then became to capture the attention of the world, to dazzle others with his stories, all these elements lend credence to the melodramatic but perhaps quite truthful pronouncement Capote makes about the particular hold Perry Smith had on him: they lived in the same house, he says, and, ultimately, what happened was that Perry walked out the back door and Truman Capote walked out the front. This film is a deeply troubling and powerful masterpiece that has something important to say couched in a compelling story; I recommend it highly.

Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.