segunda-feira, 1 de julho de 2013

CAPOTE (2005) - Film Reviewed by: Marc Goldin

CAPOTE (2005) - Film review

Dir: Bennett Miller

Reviewed by: Marc Goldin

By the time I caught up with Truman Capote, he was more the drunken buffoon making the rounds of tv talk shows than the serious brilliant writer he was supposed to have been. He had written a couple of novels, ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’, ‘The Grass Harp’ and ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (1958), the latter having been turned into a movie which was a bit on the light side.
When his major work, ‘In Cold Blood’ hit the street, it made a huge impact on the literary world, as well as the rest of the reading public, and turned it on its ear. Billed as a non-fiction novel, it challenged the current concept of popular journalism and created a new genre of journalistic writing that read like fiction. It revolved around the very real grisly and brutal murder of the Clutter family in the remote small Kansas town of Holcomb in November of 1959.
His approach was a sort of fictional journalism – he had gone to the town and interviewed people who knew the murdered family and also became friendly with Alvin Dewey, the FBI agent in charge of hunting down the escaped and unknown killers. Two men, Richard Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, were eventually caught and confessed. Capote connected with the two, more so with Smith, who somehow produced a strong response in Capote and he focused his interviewing and questioning on him, developing a bizarre and, some would say, manipulative relationship with the killer.
This is what the film chooses to examine – not the murders themselves, handled well in the film of the book, ‘In Cold Blood’ – 1967, but the writing of it. It deals with Capote and his relationships with some of the main characters in Holcomb, with his relationship to the two killers, specifically Smith, with his mixed fascination/ambivalence about the whole writing project and most of all, the exploitation that manifested itself during this time.
The film opens in New York, at one of the many hip literary parties that Capote frequently found himself attending, with all the crisp banter that usually accompanied these events, but shifts quickly to the cold flat great plains of the Midwest, as Capote hears of the murders and hightails it out to Holcomb with his close friend, the writer Harper Lee (‘To Kill a Mockingbird’). You see Capote’s first impressions of Holcomb in his and Lee’s shared sense of irony in their initial encounters with the townsfolk. After they settle in, there is a subtle shift as Capote and Lee become friendly with the people there and begin to develop the story. Then the killers are apprehended and a new angle figures in as Capote becomes intrigued with Smith and the two begin what appears to be a mutual manipulation, with Capote teasing personal details out of Smith to bolster the story while Smith plays the tragic figure who admits his guilt but manages to evoke a sense of sympathy for his hard life.
This stretches on for some time as Capote personally seeks legal aid for the two men following their initial conviction and sentencing. There is never a thought of exoneration, for there is no doubt about the men’s guilt, but as Capote gets more involved with Smith, he tries to have the death sentence appealed and changed to life. Here, the film begins focus sharply on Capote’s strange involvement in this event as it bounces back and forth between Kansas, New York and Europe. Capote carries on with his life while still trying to write the book, as the condemned men languish on death row. It’s a brilliant juxtaposition, the side-by-side scenes of New York, Holcomb and the jail cell conversations. We see Capote’s self-induced impatience with how long the book is taking – self-induced because he is responsible for the legal appeals that are dragging things out. This is where it all comes to a sort of impasse – he feels that he can’t finish his book until there is some resolution, i.e., the men’s execution, but he continues to contribute to this particular sense of limbo.
Capote is beautifully played by the quirky, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who summons the spirit of Truman Capote – drifting back and forth between Capote’s glibness and dripping sarcasm, and his moments of real anguish. Catherine Keener (‘Being John Malkovich’) does a fine job as Capote’s close pal and confidante, Harper Lee. Perry Edward Smith, the killer who engaged with Capote, is played in an understated and sympathetic way by Clifton Collins Jr. The whole film is well cast and the acting is strong all the way through.
Finally, who can judge the exploitation and manipulation? It was apparent that Capote was manipulating Perry Smith for his own gain in writing his sensationalist piece but perhaps Smith was manipulating him as well. When Capote visited Smith’s sister, she commented about Perry that while he might play the pitiful alienated loner, he would also ‘kill you as soon as look at you’. Capote obviously felt some sort of homoerotic attraction to Smith but in the book, there were hints that Smith had latent impulses himself. There’s no getting around that there had been some strange but real bond between the two. Also, Capote had arranged for further legal help for Hickock and Smith and kept them alive through appeals and stays of execution for some years after. The two men were, by their own admission, guilty of committing this murder and no matter how sophisticated the legal intervention, would ultimately be executed, so prolonging the inevitable may have just been an unintentional cruel tease.
It’s all so complicated, as this film beautifully points out – Capote seemed to have entered into a sort of Faustian bargain, and after ‘In Cold Blood’ confirmed his literary stature, he never really finished another book and slowly drank himself to death over the following years. This film presents the dilemma of exploitation versus real groundbreaking gain. A new style of writing was developed that would certainly influence and inform future writers. Capote had an opportunity to do something special and achieved it through questionable means but ultimately traded himself for it – a heavy price indeed.
© Marc Goldin (Reproduced with permission)
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