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Photo Credit :: Capote
Arts & Entertainment
By Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
January 22, 2006 
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If ever youíve had reason to believe that writers are a self-involved, self-serving bunch of vodka stinger-drinking vipers, then the depiction of Truman Capote in Capote will do little to disavow you of the notion. Brilliantly portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in a fearless performance (one which does Cate Blanchettís Oscar-winning turn as Katharine Hepburn one better in perfecting a voice and speech pattern considered so sui generis that it was heretofore believed to be incapable of mimicry), Capote makes it perfectly clear that all those who choose to befriend writers do so at their own risk. (And for those of us familiar with Capoteís life after the publication of In Cold Blood, it becomes understandable how Capoteís girlfriends, particularly Babe Paley, would freeze him out entirely once he began trading on their friendship for source material). At the time of this filmís setting, Capote is on the ascendant, a writer nearing the peak of his powers Ė and his fame. Breakfast At Tiffanyís has been published, with the film pushing Capoteís cachet as a raconteur to new heights, and while itís still a few years before his Black and White Ball at the Plaza (to which le tout creme de la creme will be invited), the film leaves little doubt that Truman Capote is the little man that can. And what he wants to do now is head to Kansas and sit in the penitentiary with Perry Smith, the murderer of the Clutter family. Mind your Miranda warning, as Babe Paley might say, for just as surely as Perry Smith opens his mouth, itís a certainty that Capote with his 94% recall rate will use Smithís words as best furthers his own needs.

In a film that opens with a close-up of a head of wheat, and then further onto an entire wheat field, the almost-absent soundtrack evokes the quiet of the Kansas plains as perhaps heard by John Cage, as well as the stillness which falls after so horrific a crime. Thousands of miles from the roiling nightlife of Manhattan, Capote is forced to do what he does best: listen. And itís a testament to this filmís intelligence that the director, Bennett Miller, understands our own desire to hear without musical accompaniment. What we focus on instead are the words and the means by which Capote cajoles Smith into speaking, a line of inquiry which produces the results so necessary for Capoteís work.

Lest we believe all writers are as Machiavellian as Capote, Catherine Keener provides a lovely portrayal of Harper Lee as a modest and almost unassuming soulmate to Truman Ė but then again, fame had just begun to touch Ms. Harper Lee with the publication, and subsequent filming, of her only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Given the filmís coda, and the synopsis of Capoteís remaining years at filmís end, itís possible to believe that Perry Smith was the death of Truman Capote. Regardless of whether Capote died of alcoholism, or loneliness, or bereft by the loss of his friends, Bennett Millerís film, with a beautifully-articulate and literate screenplay by Dan Futterman, makes it clear the very great toll that writing can take upon the soul.