Sunday, March 12, 2006


A novelist’s life can be lonely: consumed by the responsibility to fix plot, character and atmosphere on the page and make them real, the writer must work long hours and socialise rarely. As such, writers often make uncharismatic impressions, and their works are remembered more than their personalities.

CAPOTE the film invites you to imagine a time when writers achieved the kind of fame and notoriety that is today associated with pop culture personalities. Americans read more in those days than they do now, and books mattered. More importantly, Truman was a natural born self-promoter who paved the way for the cult of celebrity that is omnipresent today. His fame cut across all categories, from high to low culture, from literary seriousness to high society frivolity.
promotional materials, Capote

Not so for Truman Capote. This film, directed by Bennett Miller, focuses not on his pen or his paper — although they are included — but on his face, his manner, the tilt of his head. The actor who plays him, Philip Seymour Hoffman, allows the audience to focus deeper. His portrayal bores into Capote’s insecurity and coldness as he takes two murderers as the subject of a non-fiction novel which — he assumes — will end in their deaths.

Truman Capote: I couldn’t have done anything to save them.
Nelle Harper Lee: Maybe not, Truman. But the truth is, you didn’t want to.
Capote, 2005

His predation of the two murderers behind the Clutter murders of 1959 is masterfully dissected here, teased out into strands of determination, offhandedness, obsession, and the sardonic grotesqueries which result after a reading (which he gave while his befriended murderers were still alive and oblivious to the book’s title).

But Hoffman is skillful enough never to let his character slide into purely shallow opportunism. The film’s focus and characterisation are sparse enough to push Capote’s intentions into view for close examination, and what emerges is a very personal obsession with the killers. The writer who at first assumed — and then hoped — that they would die finds himself torn between his cold desire to master the non-fiction novel, and his hope that they might live.

I found myself grimacing with distaste and staring with arrested disbelief at Hoffman’s superb realisation of Capote, but a freakshow or a one-actor show this film is not. As Jonathan said to me by text the other week: “Capote. Go see it. And that’s an order.”

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