September 13, 2010

Queer Review: Capote

It has been said, that great writing is born out of great suffering. Irregardless of that being the case, Truman Capote certainly suffered in writing his most famous novel, In Cold Blood. The film Capote directed by Bennett Miller, chronicles Capote's experiences writing In Cold Blood as his growing obsession with his subjects nearly leads him to ruin.

After reading about the murder of an entire family, Truman Capote travels to Kansas to investigate the killing. He brings along with him his good friend Nell Harper Lee, who had just finished the manuscript for To Kill a Mockingbird. Together, Lee and Capote investigate the killings and the subsequent impact on the community they took place in. At first Capote's fay mannerisms and big city style, leave him on the outside. Perseverance and a some help from Lee, eventually land him on the inside, including the good graces of the local chief of police (Chris Cooper). When the killers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Richard Hickock (Mark Pellegrino), are caught, Capote interviews them, eventually developing a sympathetic relationship with them. Capote even ends up going so far as to pay for a lawyer to provide for their defense.

The main thrust of the movie shows Capote's growing obsession with the killers, particularly Perry Smith. The relationship that develops between these two is incredibly twisted, with each using the other for their own ends. Capote wishes to know the grisly details of the killings, while also having sympathies for Smith's plight. It's less clear what Smith wants (besides a high priced defense lawyer). A sympathetic posthumous portrayal in the novel Capote is writing? A friend and intimate? Something else?

In real life, rumors suggested that Capote and Smith engaged in a more intimate relationship then is what is depicted on film. Certainly the suggestion is there in the actors performances as to what *might* have happened, but the audience is never privy to those details.

Overall, this is a powerful movie. Great acting and direction come together to create a heady brew. Capote was an effemite and openly gay man, with a distinct and recognizable voice. Hoffman doesn't merely mimic him, he fully inhibits Capote and brings him to life in all of the late writers flamboyant glory. Of note, is also Catherine Keener, who plays Nell Harper Lee.

I've never read In Cold Blood, but I have read To Kill a Mockingbird. It therefore struck me as odd, at the beginning when Nell is running around acting as Capote's secretary and doing most of the dirty work. Granted, this is right before she became famous but it still seemed weird to me.

Overall, this is the type of film that will appeal to more mature viewers. Capote is smartly written, acted, and composed. Those that are willing to stick with a slow moving, yet very engaging movie, will find themselves rewarded.

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