If ever youíve had reason to believe that writers are a
self-involved, self-serving bunch of vodka stinger-drinking vipers,
then the depiction of Truman Capote in Capote will do little to
disavow you of the notion. Brilliantly portrayed by Philip Seymour
Hoffman in a fearless performance (one which does Cate Blanchettís
Oscar-winning turn as Katharine Hepburn one better in perfecting a
voice and speech pattern considered so sui generis that it was
heretofore believed to be incapable of mimicry), Capote makes it
perfectly clear that all those who choose to befriend writers do so
at their own risk. (And for those of us familiar with Capoteís life
after the publication of In Cold Blood, it becomes understandable
how Capoteís girlfriends, particularly Babe Paley, would freeze him
out entirely once he began trading on their friendship for source
material). At the time of this filmís setting, Capote is on the
ascendant, a writer nearing the peak of his powers Ė and his fame.
Breakfast At Tiffanyís has been published, with the film pushing
Capoteís cachet as a raconteur to new heights, and while itís still
a few years before his Black and White Ball at the Plaza (to which
le tout creme de la creme will be invited), the film leaves little
doubt that Truman Capote is the little man that can. And what he
wants to do now is head to Kansas and sit in the penitentiary with
Perry Smith, the murderer of the Clutter family. Mind your Miranda
warning, as Babe Paley might say, for just as surely as Perry Smith
opens his mouth, itís a certainty that Capote with his 94% recall
rate will use Smithís words as best furthers his own needs.
In a film that opens with a close-up of a head of wheat, and then
further onto an entire wheat field, the almost-absent soundtrack
evokes the quiet of the Kansas plains as perhaps heard by John Cage,
as well as the stillness which falls after so horrific a crime.
Thousands of miles from the roiling nightlife of Manhattan, Capote
is forced to do what he does best: listen. And itís a testament to
this filmís intelligence that the director, Bennett Miller,
understands our own desire to hear without musical accompaniment.
What we focus on instead are the words and the means by which Capote
cajoles Smith into speaking, a line of inquiry which produces the
results so necessary for Capoteís work.
Lest we believe all writers are as Machiavellian as Capote,
Catherine Keener provides a lovely portrayal of Harper Lee as a
modest and almost unassuming soulmate to Truman Ė but then again,
fame had just begun to touch Ms. Harper Lee with the publication,
and subsequent filming, of her only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Given the filmís coda, and the synopsis of Capoteís remaining years
at filmís end, itís possible to believe that Perry Smith was the
death of Truman Capote. Regardless of whether Capote died of
alcoholism, or loneliness, or bereft by the loss of his friends,
Bennett Millerís film, with a beautifully-articulate and literate
screenplay by Dan Futterman, makes it clear the very great toll that
writing can take upon the soul.