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Capote

Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 02/27/06 17:14:05

"Murder By Ink!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

I’ve never heard Truman Capote talk or seen him walk. In other words, before I sauntered into a screening of Bennett Miller’s 'Capote' I had no familiarity with Truman Capote(other than the fact that he wrote ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ and ‘In Cold Blood’) as a person- his mannerisms, personality, etc. That meant I couldn’t judge whether Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance is a perfect imitation of the man he was portraying. I can, however, concede that Philip Seymour Hoffman is somebody else here…someone far removed from the Hoffman I know. By the end of the film, eerily enough, I was unsure if what I’d witnessed is just mere imitation or a person reincarnate!

It’s impossible to write about Capote without gushing over Hoffman’s feat in every sentence. I’ll try and avoid that though. Capote is not a biopic; it merely covers a chapter in the central character’s life. In what is common knowledge by now, that chapter is Truman Capote’s experience writing In Cold Blood- the trend-setting non-fiction novel! Truman Capote did not only pioneer a new-style of writing, he was also the first child of the celebrity revolution. He gave birth to the ‘famous for being famous’ breed!

In November 1959, the point where we enter the story, Truman is already famous(for penning ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’) and a jet-setter. Pompously parading himself at soirees, he enters into a room and attracts everyone to his corner. Notorious for his tales, often fabricated, he basks in his own glory without the slightest bit of awkwardness. This, when he openly professed his homosexuality during an era in which it was anathema. It is at this time, that a news report in the New York Times about a Kansas family being murdered catches his eye. Truman sees a great opportunity, and with his childhood friend Harper Lee(Catherine Keener) in tow, Truman heads to Holcomb, Kansas. Truman knew it paid to be a celebrity, and he wasn’t shy in exercising that privilege. Entertaining Marie Dewey(Amy Ryan), wife to Alvin Dewey(Chris Cooper)- an agent with The Kansas Bureau of investigation, with stories of Humphrey Bogart and John Huston; he allows himself, invited, in the Dewey household.

Truman wished to exploit this situation into an interesting article for the New Yorker magazine, delineating the simple country life and the criminal underbelly of the USA. However when Perry Smith(Clifton Collins, Jr) and Richard Hickock(Mark Pellegrino), two hikers in Las Vegas, are apprehended and found guilty of the multiple homicides Truman truly comprehends that he is onto something bigger. He visits the convicts in their cell, and takes a special liking to Perry- the more intellectual of the two. Gifted with an amazing memory(he can recall 94% of his conversations), Truman doesn’t take notes while interviewing Perry. In what resembles a heart-to-heart, Truman manipulates Perry by narrating his own traumatic childhood experiences, knowing very well that it will initiate Perry into opening up. Manipulation, in fact, is one of Truman’s strongest weapons which he isn’t averse in using.

But does willful exploitation precede a sense of guilt? In the case of Truman Capote, it did and it manifested itself in the most complex manner. Capote never finished another book after In Cold Blood, ironically a novel that earned him a spot in the greatest modern American writers, sinking into alcoholism and drug-abuse. In Dan Futterman’s screen adaptation of Gerald Clarke’s biography of Capote, we get to witness the screws of guilt and its burden begin to tighten around Truman’s hitherto unscathed moral interior. Truman hoped to portray the humane side of Perry and Dick, but ended up confronting the monster within. No wonder he muses, “It’s as if Perry and I grew up in the same house and one day he stood up went out the back door and I the front.” As I observed Truman in a corner, all alone and on the outside, I was reminded of present-day TV journalists who sensationalize tragic events only to increase ratings and arrest stronger viewer-base. Do they, if ever, undergo such emotional pangs over their criminal misuse of the real pains of people and their life? Or are they merely concerned about the halo of gloating glory floating over their heads? The entire argument/conundrum can be summed up in one discussion between Truman and Harper, his foil. A broken Truman says to Harper that he couldn’t have done anything to save Perry and Dick; to which Harper very nonchalantly asserts, “Maybe not, Truman. But the truth is, you didn't want to.”

Bennett Miller displays an assured grasp of the medium in his first feature film; his previous effort was a documentary. His direction is non-intrusive, reminiscent of Clint Eastwood’s unhurried work in last year’s Million Dollar Baby. He is helped to a great extent by Futterman’s screenplay, which isn’t shy in demonizing its principal character and never once stooping to justifying his motivations. Adam Kimmel’s cinematography is languid, and acting almost as a footnote to the proceedings. Notice how the early reels have long-shots, expressing vast nothingness; and later as Truman gets closer to the truth the camera captures extreme uncomfortable close-ups. Mychael Danna’s minimalist soundtrack is pensive.

It’s the performances that raise 'Capote' a notch above the usual biopic. An all-round ensemble, every actor turns in a solid act. Catherine Keener is effectively understated, Chris Cooper is his dependable self while Clifton Collins, Jr. gives a breakthrough performance. This is ultimately Philip Seymour Hoffman’s vehicle. Hoffman is absolutely spellbinding, and that still is an underestimation. Fey mannerisms, childish(lisping) voice, feminine gait and minor ticks like adjusting the frame of his spectacles or using his pinky to ever so slightly scratch his head; the makeover has to be seen to believe. Deserving of all the accolades that he’s already received for this role, it’d be a travesty if he doesn’t win the Oscar.

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