The writer E.B.White gave this advice to young writers, ‘If you want to get ahead without annoying delays don’t write about Man, write about a Man’.
Bennett Miller’s film ‘Capote’, based on Gerald Clarke’s biography, is a knockout. The film focuses on a pivotal time in Capote’s life. This was the period from when Capote, then working as a journalist for the New Yorker magazine, reads a newspaper article about the brutal murder of a Kansas murder in 1959, and decides to research and write an article about it, to the time in 1964 when the two killers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock go to the gallows, and Capote is finally free to publish his masterpiece.
Whilst writing ‘In Cold Blood’ Capote was able to establish a close relationship with Perry Smith, and this gave him extensive material to work from, and gave the book a personal, raw edge. The complex part that Capote played in this relationship becomes the films’ focus.
I saw ‘Capote’ primarily as a film about a writer who goes after a great story, and then forgets the human beings behind it. It is a familiar enough story, especially in journalistic circles. Perry Smith was a great story, and Capote wanted it badly.
Capote’s crime was that he deceived Smith. He knew that Smith was vulnerable, that Smith believed that Capote with his influence could save him from the gallows. Capote led Smith to believe that his book would help when, instead, Capote was basically damning him.
There’s a defining scene midway during the film when the audience sees Capote reading excerpts from his promised his next great work. (He had already established his reputation with ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s) to an adoring audience at a literary soiree. The camera sees him soaking up the adulation. Significantly, it’s not long after the time he visited Smith in his cell and told him that not only had he not written much of the book but that he had not come up with a title yet!
Clearly the film is damning of Capote. Capote gets his just desserts. Where there is crime, there is punishment and Capote does come through the whole experience damaged.
The movie highlights his flashy, egocentric manner and his sometimes malicious behaviour. Yet is shows Capote as a contradictory, complex character, who could be also be generous and compassionate.
‘Capote’ also implicitly argues that it could have only been such a brilliant, driven and cunning man who could have produced such a literary masterpiece.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman gave a masterful performance as Capote. Of-course Hoffman got the squeaky voice and the extravagant gesturing down pat but his performance was so much more than that! One could read what was going on with his character without words needing to be said. What higher praise can one give an actor?!
In the supporting roles, Catherine Keener stood out in a memorable performance as Capote’s friend and literary colleague, Harper Lee, a literary figure in her own right, having just completed ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.
Bennett Miller’s direction was peerless. He had a vision for the film and clearly communicated it to the audience.
My recommendation…Go see ‘Capote’ if you haven’t already. This is a film guaranteed to foster much fertile supper conversation.