ranuel (ranuel) wrote,

Movie Review: Capote

I really wanted to like this movie. See, I remember Truman Capote when he was a fixture on the talk show circuit. He was one of the guests that I'd stay up late for if he was going to be on The Tonight Show. He was brilliant and snarky and could stab someone in the back with a bit of gossip while being absolutely child like and wickedly innocent. He was Puck with a soft Southern accent and one too many martinis.

As an adult I've read a fair bit of his work and really came to appreciate him as a writer instead of just a media personality. His best work is generally agreed to be In Cold Blood his ground breaking "non-fiction novel". Not only is the book jaw dropping good the movie  with Robert Blake is one of the best adaptations of a book I've ever seen. If you haven't read the book or seen the movie you need to do both as soon as you can fit it into your schedule. Be sure to allow for time after to digest them, you'll be thinking about parts of both for awhile afterwards.  Blake kicks butt as Smith and makes him a far more interesting character than Clifton Collin's emo boy in this movie.

The common wisdom is that the process of writing In Cold Blood changed Capote and he lost a lot of his creativity and put a lot more energy into drinking and drugging himself to death after that until he finally succeeded at the age of 59. I'd really love to see something that examined this brilliant and troubled man and delved into the psychology of what happened to him as well as a fresh look at the case that he was obsessed with.

I thought that's what Capote the movie was supposed to be but instead it's just a shallow, suffocatingly pretentious, attempt to cash in on the recent success of bio pics. We never really get that deep into the mind of the characters and what drives them. The emotions portrayed are muted and limited in scope for most of the movie. People are either quiet and withdrawn or show a forced fake hilarity in stilted social situations that make you wonder why cocktail parties in New York were ever considered to be fun. We get a few brief flashes of anger here and there but they are quickly controlled and we are back to the gray sameness. We must never forget that this is a SERIOUS movie about a SERIOUS EVENT. It is only at the very end when we get anything more and then it's overwrought angst when Capote goes to the prison to see Smith for the last time and to witness his execution.

I have to question just how accurate the characterizations are even though I don't know much about Harper Lee and Jack Dunphy. The two people closest to Tru show very little love or acceptance of him in this movie. They often react to things he says with a look of stern disapproval and there is no warmth or spark between the actors. There is only one scene where I believe that Harper and Truman are lifelong best friends from the behavior of the actors but even here the dialog is very forced and not really believable.

Jack, his long time lover, rarely comes closer than arms length to him and I can only remember once that they even touch, a brief touch on the back from Tru to Jack as they walk in a park. There is no mention made at all as to what their relationship is, Jack is just there. It feels as if the filmmakers were uncomfortable with Tru's sexuality and wanted to eliminate it from the film as much as possible without leaving themselves open to criticism by cutting it altogether.

Supporting this, there is no mention of Perry Smith's sexuality either. There has been speculation that he and his partner in crime, Dick Hickcock, had a sexual relationship during their prior incarceration and that Perry committed the murders in a jealous rage when he caught Hickcock about to rape the Clutter's teenage daughter. Capote dances around this issue in his book and denied any such relationship in interviews. It would have been interesting to see him defending this in the face of Smith's obvious jealously and his own obvious growing attraction to Smith. There are persistent rumors that he and Smith had sex at least once during the time that Capote spent interviewing Smith and this isn't even alluded to in the movie.

The movie's depiction of Truman Capote crosses the line into caricature more than once. The voice that Hoffman does starts to grate after a while, I can't pin it down but there is some quality to it that isn't present in the real Truman's speaking voice that is really unpleasant. I think part of it is the lack of energy. Even when in scenes where he is holding court and telling stories at a party there is a tired, depressed whine to Hoffman's voice and none of the impish fun of the original. It's a one note performance that really should not have earned Hoffman an Oscar. Joaquin Phoenix was robbed. His performance as Johnny Cash the same year was a masterpiece of acting. Hoffman's performance was a bad Rich Little impersonation. 

If you want to see a really great portrayal of Truman Capote don't bother with this even if it had all those awards thrown at it. You have to track down a copy of the 1992 American Playhouse broadcast of Tru the Emmy winning film of Robert Morse's one man show. Morse does a far better job than Hoffman at bringing us a real person warts, charm, and all. Unfortunately it has never been released on DVD and the VHS version is out of print. If you see a copy grab it if it shows up on cable set your recorder and do not miss it.

Finally, this review  by Dan Callahan really gets at the heart of why I didn't like Capote and explains it far better than I do.
Tags: movie review
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