Admittedly, I am not the most literate fella. Consequently, the name Truman Capote means something to me, but simply for its notoriety and not for his work, or anything else of worth that should continue to give his name meaning years after his death. I expected Bennett Miller’s film, CAPOTE, to be something of a crash course on Capote’s life. I would leave there with the half-sense of being educated on the man – an expectation so many of us put on the movies. Dan Futterman’s script takes a different approach though as he chooses to focus on the six years Capote spent writing his last novel, “In Cold Blood”. The editorial decision sways our judgment and forces us to view the man’s entire life in this one blip in the grander scheme. Despite the narrow scope on Capote’s life this presents, there is still a rich sense of character, encompassing history and heritage, as well as a conflict in the present that hints at an imminent unraveling.
This challenging feat comes to fruition thanks to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s metamorphic portrayal of Capote. Again, not being familiar with the actual Truman Capote, it’s hard to say that Hoffman embodied him but I can say that he was definitely not himself. His round frame is draped in understated style; his thick, dark-rimmed glasses fit perfectly with his slicked, blonde hair. We first meet Truman at an upper-class party. He is the epicenter of the conversation and all are transfixed on his stories of gossip and innuendo. We can see on his face how much he enjoys the audience and hear it in his high-pitched squeak of a voice how much he revels in his successful life, as anyone with that mousy and effeminate a voice must have been the one gossiped about previously, and not the one doing the gossiping. As Capote, Hoffman enters rooms with gusto and presence but there is a hint of hesitation as he is aware of the reaction his demeanor, and clearly identifiable homosexuality, incites from people, be they in New York City where he lives, or Kansas, where he is researching his novel. He is completely oblivious to nearly everyone else’s existence and this ultimately commands the attention he deserves, but there is a small boy’s fear that causes him to overcompensate by playing it up to see how far he can go, as well as protect his fragile nature.
Hoffman balances two distinct sides of Capote so well that by the close of the film, even he appears to not understand how his life ended up where it did. These two sides are sincerity and artifice. In order to gain the trust of Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.), one of the murderers who will serve as the inspiration for his novel, he must pretend to care about Smith, as he waits to die on death row. After their initial meeting, Smith behind bars and Capote offering him medication like a banana to a monkey at the zoo, Capote continues to see him as just that, an animal, a paycheck. As their relationship persists and they spend more time together, a bond inevitably forms and the lines between despondency and compassion blur. As Smith’s time on death row nears its end, Capote seems overtaken with something he cannot process, an emotional attachment to another human being.
Watching Capote’s descent from confidence and control is both painful and uplifting. It may not be a pretty picture but realizing that you have a lot in common with a cold-blooded murderer is definitely humbling.