Introduction

Capote

Capote
  • Country of production: USA
  • Year: 2005
  • Certificate: 15
  • Director: Bennett Miller
  • Running time: 98 minutes
  • Official website: www.capote-movie.co.uk
 

Capote is an absorbing biographical drama, the unnervingly perceptive portrait of Truman Capote (PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN), author of Breakfast at Tiffany's. Critics have described Hoffman's nuanced and insightful portrayal as 'mesmerising' and he was awarded an Oscar, a Bafta and a Golden Globe for Best Actor. The film also received Oscar and Bafta nominations for best film, director, adapted screenplay and supporting actress. It was named Best Film of 2005 by the National Society of Film Critics in the US.

In November 1959 a New York Times report of the murders of four members of a farming family - the Clutters - in Holcomb, Kansas, caught Capote's eye. The New Yorker magazine agreed to commission him to write a feature about the murders and Capote decamped to Kansas. He was accompanied by Nelle Harper Lee (CATHERINE KEENER), a friend from his Alabama childhood who would shortly win a Pulitzer Prize and achieve fame of her own as the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Capote spent the next six years writing In Cold Blood, a book about the collision of two Americas - the safe, stable country the Clutters had known and the rootless, amoral country inhabited by their killers. It's the culture clash between the flamboyant, mincing Capote and the taciturn, stoical law enforcement officials of Kansas that the film most explicitly highlights.

Captured in Las Vegas, the two killers were returned to Kansas, where they were tried, convicted and sentenced to death. Capote is shown visiting them in jail and befriending Perry Smith (CLIFTON COLLINS JR), whom he recognises as a sensitive and artistic soul.

Capote's book became a best-seller and inspired a movie (Richard Brooks’s In Cold Blood in 1967). It was hailed for its objectivity and sangfroid but for Capote it had become personal. He was riven by the conflict between winning the convicts' trust and needing them to die to provide an ending for his book, and the film depicts his resulting personal disintegration.

The script draws on Gerald Clarke's biography of the writer. Recollections compiled by George Plimpton from those who knew Capote have been used in the making of another film, Douglas McGrath's Infamous, which is due out later this year.

Re-view

Capote

THE TRUMAN SHOW

'Just as Truman Capote's In Cold Blood represented something entirely new in American literature - a non-fiction novel, as Capote correctly called it - the movie Capote represents something unique in cinema. It's a hybrid that borrows from bio-pics, docu-dramas and... true-life stories.'

(KIRK HONEYCUTT, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER)

Non-fiction film

The film takes a step back from Truman Capote's version of events in his book and places him squarely in the frame. He is implicated by his involvement with the characters and the lengths to which he is prepared to go to complete his book, even seeking to hasten the killers' execution. The film puts him on trial just as surely as the accused and we witness his demise along with theirs.

Capote presented a caricature image of himself so has been much imitated but Hoffman's performance draws us in and captures the depth and different facets of his character. 'The Oscar-worthy achievement is really the voice, a quavering, semi-falsetto thing that hangs ironically in the air, trailing bitchy insinuation and self-applause' (Tim Robey, Sight & Sound).

His Capote displays both the self-confident toughness of the outsider and guile in emphasising this otherness to win people over. 'A gay man in the era of Kennedy/Rat Pack machismo, a Southerner in New York, a New Yorker in Kansas, he walks into every new situation sure of who he is and sure that he will soon prove himself to be, once again, the most interesting person in the room. His whispery, stuttering self-presentation serves as a feint, deflecting notice from his essential steeliness' (AO Scott, The New York Times).

Catherine Keener as Harper Lee is Capote's foil and the film's conscience. 'Through her wary, witty performance, she becomes the bridge that connects Capote with the audience; we take our cues from her as we try to figure out when he should be indulged and when he should be censured' (AO Scott, The New York Times).

Clifton Collins Jr as Perry Smith actually seems too compliant to be credible. The film's one nagging flaw for Owen Gleiberman in Entertainment Weekly was that he never quite musters the rage of a killer and lacks the twitches of self-loathing that Smith had in the book.

Cold-blooded writer

Smith's sensitive, sociopathic temperament is the dark mirror-image of Capote's own, as AO Scott noted in The New York Times. Capote says, "It's like Perry and I grew up in the same house, and one day he... went out the back door while I went out the front." Yet despite identifying with Smith, Capote ruthlessly exploits the friendship and cruelly deceives and abandons him. Just as Smith thought Herb Clutter was "a very nice, gentle man... right up until I slit his throat".

Capote is warned by his lover Dunphy at the outset to "be careful what you do to get what you want". For Capote the ending of his book justifies the means. He makes a Faustian bargain as 'a vampiric opportunist seeking out literary laurels amid a wreckage of lives, and literally opening the coffin lids' (Tim Robey, Sight & Sound). The corruption at the centre of his enterprise is seen vividly when he has the killers' portraits taken by a fashion photographer, even posing with Smith himself. He is able to get what he wants because others are complicit: Smith wants recognition just like him; the prison warden is bribed; and the chief investigator acquiesces to Capote's requests because his wife is star-struck.

Capote is a harbinger for the cults of celebrity and success-at-any-cost that were to become the norm. 'The sometimes amused, often appalled view of Capote that Lee, Dunphy and Shawn (Bob Balaban, looking quietly unsettled) share echoes a feeling throughout the film that what is happening is bigger than Capote and the book. It's a feeling of vague, bottomed-out dread as old New York gives way to new New York; fiction gives way to nonfiction; literature gives way to the tell-all; esteem gives way to stardom... Ultimately, Capote was not only among the first celebrity writers to hobnob with movie stars in the pages of glossy magazines, he also experienced the public demise and personal dissipation that we now gleefully extract as the price of fame. His goal was to invent a "new way of writing". In the process, he invented a new way of being an author.' (Carina Chocano, Los Angeles Times)

 
Pro-files

Capote

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN

TRUMAN CAPOTE

A graduate in drama from NYU in 1989, Philip Seymour Hoffman is now recognised as one of his generation's leading actors. An early major role was in the 1992 Al Pacino comedy Scent of a Woman but it was away from the mainstream in landmark 1990s American independent titles that he made his name. With his distinctive looks Hoffman isn't conventional leading-man material and his choice of roles has tended towards offbeat, often socially ill-at-ease characters, including a reclusive stalker in Happiness, a nerdish porn film crew member in Boogie Nights (one of four collaborations with director Paul Thomas Anderson), and an obnoxious socialite in The Talented Mr Ripley (the director of which, Anthony Minghella, cast Hoffman again in Cold Mountain). But there are big-budget forays too: the actor co-starred in the thriller Red Dragon and will soon be seen alongside Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible III. Having already played real-life journalist Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, Hoffman’s turn as Truman Capote marks the latest highpoint in a career of rare discernment and quality.

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CATHERINE KEENER

NELLE HARPER LEE

For many film-goers Catherine Keener was the surprise revelation of the comedy Being John Malkovich. Before this 2000 Oscar-nominated role, the actress was one of Hollywood's best-kept secrets, quietly putting in strong performances in such well regarded films such as Living in Oblivion and Out of Sight. Her performance in the family drama Lovely & Amazing consolidated the public recognition she received for Malkovich, the director of which, Spike Jonze, cast her again in 2002's Adaptation.

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CLIFTON COLLINS JR

PERRY SMITH

The grandson of Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales, a character actor from 1950s westerns, Clifton Collins has appeared in more than 30 movies since his 1991 debut in the LA-set Grand Canyon. One of his first prominent roles was alongside Colin Farrell in the Vietnam-era army drama Tigerland. Later stand-out roles include one of the students in the controversial 2002 campus movie The Rules of Attraction and a criminal in the narcotics drama Traffic. Ever versatile, he contributed voicework to a 2004 version of the Grand Theft Auto videogame.

CHRIS COOPER

ALVIN DEWEY

Like Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper's breakthrough role was in a film directed by Spike Jonze: the 2002 Adaptation, for which Cooper won an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Like Capote, it was based on a New Yorker article. Before that, the native of Kansas City was best known for his collaboration with the godfather of modern American independent cinema, John Sayles, in films such as the period mining drama Matewan (Cooper's 1987 debut) and political thrillers City of Hope and Lone Star. He can currently be seen in Sam Mendes’s Gulf War picture Jarhead.

BRUCE GREENWOOD

JACK DUNPHY

With more than 70 film and television credits to his name, Bruce Greenwood has built up an impressive and diverse body of work as a Hollywood character actor in films such as the military drama Rules of Engagement, the Will Smith sci-fi film I, Robot and – most memorably – the Cuban missile crisis drama Thirteen Days, when he played JFK. As well as his US career, Quebec-born Greenwood has collaborated three times with Canadian arthouse director Atom Egoyan, most notably in the sombre family drama The Sweet Hereafter.

BOB BALABAN

WILLIAM SHAWN

Since his debut in the 1969 Midnight Cowboy Bob Balaban has been in some 50-plus movies, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in which he played a French translator (despite being a poor French speaker), Bob Roberts and Deconstructing Harry. Balaban has also collaborated with actor-performer Christopher Guest, whose improvised, mock-documentary comedies such as A Mighty Wind made good use of the actor’s early stand-up experience. Balaban also directs (debuting with Parents) and writes screenplays, most notably Gosford Park, which he also produced and acted in. TV roles include the head of NBC in Seinfeld.

BENNETT MILLER

DIRECTOR

A childhood friend of Capote screenwriter Dan Futterman – and an acquaintance of Philip Seymour Hoffman since the two met at a drama summer school in the mid 1980s – Bennett Miller is making his fiction debut with Capote. But his background in documentary (he made The Cruise in 1998, an acclaimed study of an eccentric New York tour guide) was good preparation for charting Truman Capote’s efforts to do justice to his real-life subject. As well as these two feature-length works, Miller has directed dozens of commercials.

DAN FUTTERMAN

SCREENPLAY

Capote marks the screenwriting debut of Dan Futterman, but the 38-year-old already has a long involvement with film, having worked as an actor since 1991. His cinema credits include a bit-part in the New York-set fantasy The Fisher King and a lead role in the British rom-com Shooting Fish. To television audiences he is probably best known for his supporting turn in the sitcom Will & Grace.

 
Cinemas

Capote

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