Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Capote -- Self-Absorbed Manipulator
Truman Capote was a journalist, a writer, and a homosexual: indeed, a larger-than-life colorful character. In contrast, Capote the movie is dull and depressing, a colorless biopic that fails to engage. It has terrific acting, by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who lost 40 pounds to star as Capote, and won best actor Oscar in 2005, and Catherine Keener as Harper Lee, who was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar, but a dour storyline.
We first see Capote in his element -- at a party. Surrounded by adoring sycophants, he is the center of attention telling stories of his own grandeur. He is self-absorbed, captured by his own brilliance, having already written "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
When the Clutter family is brutally murdered in their Kansas home, Capote is drawn to the story like a moth to a flame. And like that same moth, this flame will change Capote forever. Capote senses a huge story and asks Harper Lee, the author of "To Kill a Mocking Bird," to accompany him to visit the Kansas town as his research assistant. She is the perfect foil to Capote, grounded and calm.
When Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr) and Dick Hickok (Mark Pellegrino) are arrested for the crime, Capote wants unrestricted access to them for his story. He spends hours befriending them, focusing on Smith, the erudite and apparently sensitive one of the two.
But Smith is akin to Capote. As Capote says, "It's as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he went out the back door, while I went out the front." Both are excellent wordsmiths; both are excellent manipulators. While Capote befriends Smith to get inside his head for the story of the crime and his life's best work ("It's the book I was always meant to write"), Smith sees Capote as his ticket to an appeal, if not freedom. Two cagy foxes, they circle around, never quite getting what they want, both deceiving. When Smith wants to know the title of the book, Capote lies, not wishing to reveal that he has chosen one. When Smith discovers that it is "In Cold Blood" Capote denies it is his choice, or even the final choice. He might not get what he wants with such a damning title.
Along the way, Capote's relationship to Smith turns somewhat personal, he becomes involved. Truman Capote becomes conflicted, wanting his book to end but knowing that it would only do so with an execution or a pardon. Through it all, though, seeing them dance a verbal tango, or watching Capote tap the keys of his manual typewriter is simply not enthralling cinema.
True, as Tennessee Williams, Capote's cousin, said the novel Capote eventually wrote would change how people write, and it did. It created the true crime novel genre. And was Capote's best work. But the process changed him thoroughly. He saw first-hand the inner workings of a murderer, and the inner workings of the justice system. After this, he never finished another book.
Capote reminds us that manipulation is ethically wrong, a dark sin. Covering our desires with silver-tongued lies, leads to friendships that are fake, mere facades. The truth is, manipulation is simply using someone else to gain our own ends with no care or concern for the other person. The antidote is selfless and genuine love for others.
Copyright 2008, Martin Baggs
at 7:00 AM