Article Title:Capote - absorbing, downbeat, de-gayed
Category:Movies
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:26th February 2006 - 12:00 pm
Published by:GayNZ.com
Story ID:1135
Text:Review: CAPOTE Directed by Bennett Miller; US, 2005, 35mm, 98mins Most authors plunder their personal lives for their art, but gay writer Truman Capote wasn't too interested in that. With his groundbreaking work of non-fiction In Cold Blood, he plunged straight into the heart of human darkness and – if the events of Capote are to be taken literally – never emerged the same again. It's 1959, and Capote is writing for the New Yorker magazine when he hears of the brutal slaying of an entire family in a farmhouse in Kansas. He tells his editor he's found the subject for his new book, and heads straight for the town where it all happened, accompanied by his friend Nelle Harper (author of To Kill A Mockingbird). At first the locals aren't sure what to make of this strange, eccentric, swishy little man. But by this stage in history, Capote is already a well-known author, having penned Breakast at Tiffany's. His celebrity helps him charm his way into the home of the detective in charge of the case, the funeral parlour, and surviving relatives of the victims. Capote intends to write a story about the effect of the murders on the town, but all that changes when two men are arrested for the crimes – Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. It's Smith that Capote takes a particular interest in, seeing a vulnerability in his eyes that drives him to find out what could have made this seemingly-sweet man commit such a hideous crime. As Smith and Hickock sit for years on death row, Capote is granted unlimited access to the men to conduct hours worth of interviews which will form the heart and soul of his book. Phillip Seymour Hoffman turns in a wonderful performance as Capote, portraying him as an unknowable extrovert – this is a man who loves to talk, but never seems to really say anything, except through his work. Although Capote is using Smith and mining him for material, it's a two-way street. A deep connection appears to have been forged between both men, but it's never clear just how much one is using the other – Capote needs Smith for his book, and Smith needs Capote for access to better lawyers who will hopefully save him from execution. Writers often become emotionally attached to their characters, but fiction can be erased, real life subjects cannot. Only Smith's death will provide an ending for the book, and as the appeal process drags on, Capote's attachment to Smith becomes his psychological downfall. "When I think about how good my book can be, sometimes I can hardly breathe," he says at one point. Capote eventually gets the fame and recognition he wants, but ends up an empty shell – so we're told. It's clear from what we know that Capote was irreversibly altered by his dark journey penning In Cold Blood, but the film's desire to convince us that karmic retribution was meted out for this author's ‘exploitation' of a serial killer is a little heavy-handed and comes across as a moral judgment. Hoffman's Bafta Award-winning performance shows us that Capote's psyche was always a complex and off-beat one, and the alcoholism that led to his eventual death in 1984 doubtless had far more contributing factors than this period of his life. As a Hollywood film about a gay man, all the usual whitewashes of sexuality are also in place here. Although Capote appears to live with another man, playwright Jack Dunphy, and holiday with him in Spain, they don't even hug, let alone kiss one another or say "I love you". Considering that they are alone in most of the scenes they share together, this seems decidedly odd. Needless to say, I wasn't even sure if Dunphy was supposed to be Capote's partner until I checked out an online bio. Nonetheless, Capote is absorbing, though downbeat. Less a biopic than a snapshot of a period in a famous author's life, it will deservedly be remembered in years to come for the strength of Hoffman's performance. Other than that, there's little to learn here that can't already be gleaned from the original source material. Chris Banks - 26th February 2006    
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