Capote (2005)

Rated R. Our ratings: V-5 ; L-2 ; S/N-1 . Running time: 1 hour 54 min.

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
Matthew 16:26 (KJV)

Capote

By now you have heard or read of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s marvelous depiction of Truman Capote. It is good to see this talented actor step into the spotlight after enchanting us with such depictions as the compassionate nurse in Magnolia. In the latter film he plays a character who is worlds apart from the gay, somewhat narcissistic writer who is credited with inventing the true crime genre. Very much at home in Manhattan circles of the intelligentsia, where he holds center stage with his witty one-liners, put-downs, and name dropping stories of the rich and famous, Capote becomes the fish out of water when he travels to Kansas in pursuit of what his instincts tell him is a great story.

In November 1959 Capote saw a small news article in the NY TIMES about the shotgun murder of four members of the Clutter family in their home just outside of Holcomb, Kansas, with the killers yet to be apprehended. Something tells him that this could be the subject of a good article, so he telephones his editor at the New Yorker and receives permission to go out and investigate. Thus, taking his friend and confidante Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) with him, he sets off for the Corn State. He at first offends Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) when he says, “I don’t care one way or the other if you catch who did this.” Dewey, feeling the murder of the Cutters as a personal loss, fires back, his voice with a hostile edge to it, “Well I do!”

After a time of searching, police catch the two killers and bring them back to Kansas. The story for Capote then switches from how a community deals with grief to a profile of the killers themselves Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) might have killed in cold blood, but it soon becomes obvious that Truman Capote writes in cold blood as he bonds with the two killers and manipulates them for his own ends. Discovering that both he and Perry Smith are orphans who survived difficult times, Capote wins his trust, coaxing the details of the murder out of the killers. He attends the trial, and even helps Dick write an appeal when the two are found guilty and sentenced to death.

Almost six years pass, during which Capote has upgraded his story to a full novel—he calls it a non-fiction one. Capote lies to the condemned prisoners about its nature, and even its title. Although he has come to like them, he can scarcely wait for the story to end, knowing full well that the only outcome will be their deaths in the execution chamber. But until the day when the pair is at last executed, Capote cannot finish it. Because he has broken off contact with Parry, the latter now realizes how much he has been manipulated, but he still feels positively toward his “friend.”

Directed by Bennett Miller from Dan Futterman’s script (based on the book by Gerald Clarke), Capote is a marvelous study of the price a person pays for a work that he wants to complete at any price. In the 1967 version of Capote’s book (See the review later on in this issue), there is a journalist hovering in the background of the investigation and at the trial and executions. Capote brings this journalist out of the shadows and shows him as a man almost as ruthless as the criminals. Just as they killed for money, Capote in effect kills for his book. Although we all have benefited from the great book that resulted, we might well ponder whether it was worth the price. As the film credits are about to scroll up we are told that Truman Capote, author of Breakfast at Tifanney’s and “A Christmas Memory.” never wrote another book during the rest of his alcohol-saturated life.

For reflection/Discussion

1) What did you think of Capote when you first met him in the film? What do his friends, such as Nelle Harper Lee, see in him? How is he able to gain the confidence, and thus the cooperation of people, so well? Who are the people that Capote manipulates to get what he wants, and how does he do it?

2) What book does Capote give to the prisoners? When Perry (?) asks why the author Thoreau was in jail, what do you think of the answer, “They say for not paying taxes, but really it was for being an outsider”? How are all three men outsiders?

3) Were you aware before that Nelle Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, was such a good friend of Capote’s? How does his self-centeredness show up when her book was published and made into a movie?

4) How, after Capote abandons Parry, does the latter seem to be more “Christian” than the famous author?

5) How does Nelle Harper Lee serve at times as Capote’s Jimminy Cricket? How is this an important part of having and being a friend? Can you think of instances in your life in which you or a friend played such a role?

6) Do you believe that Capote lost his soul in the writing of the book? If you were faced with such a consequence would you go ahead anyhow?

Capote Rated R. Our ratings: V-5 ; L-2 ; S/N-1 . Running time: 1 hour 54 min.

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

Matthew 16:26 (KJV)

By now you have heard or read of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s marvelous depiction of Truman Capote. It is good to see this talented actor step into the spotlight after enchanting us with such depictions as the compassionate nurse in Magnolia. In the latter film he plays a character who is worlds apart from the gay, somewhat narcissistic writer who is credited with inventing the true crime genre. Very much at home in Manhattan circles of the intelligentsia, where he holds center stage with his witty one-liners, put-downs, and name dropping stories of the rich and famous, Capote becomes the fish out of water when he travels to Kansas in pursuit of what his instincts tell him is a great story.

In November 1959 Capote saw a small news article in the NY TIMES about the shotgun murder of four members of the Clutter family in their home just outside of Holcomb, Kansas, with the killers yet to be apprehended. Something tells him that this could be the subject of a good article, so he telephones his editor at the New Yorker and receives permission to go out and investigate. Thus, taking his friend and confidante Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) with him, he sets off for the Corn State. He at first offends Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) when he says, “I don’t care one way or the other if you catch who did this.” Dewey, feeling the murder of the Cutters as a personal loss, fires back, his voice with a hostile edge to it, “Well I do!”

After a time of searching, police catch the two killers and bring them back to Kansas. The story for Capote then switches from how a community deals with grief to a profile of the killers themselves Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) might have killed in cold blood, but it soon becomes obvious that Truman Capote writes in cold blood as he bonds with the two killers and manipulates them for his own ends. Discovering that both he and Perry Smith are orphans who survived difficult times, Capote wins his trust, coaxing the details of the murder out of the killers. He attends the trial, and even helps Dick write an appeal when the two are found guilty and sentenced to death.

Almost six years pass, during which Capote has upgraded his story to a full novel—he calls it a non-fiction one. Capote lies to the condemned prisoners about its nature, and even its title. Although he has come to like them, he can scarcely wait for the story to end, knowing full well that the only outcome will be their deaths in the execution chamber. But until the day when the pair is at last executed, Capote cannot finish it. Because he has broken off contact with Parry, the latter now realizes how much he has been manipulated, but he still feels positively toward his “friend.”

Directed by Bennett Miller from Dan Futterman’s script (based on the book by Gerald Clarke), Capote is a marvelous study of the price a person pays for a work that he wants to complete at any price. In the 1967 version of Capote’s book (See the review later on in this issue), there is a journalist hovering in the background of the investigation and at the trial and executions. Capote brings this journalist out of the shadows and shows him as a man almost as ruthless as the criminals. Just as they killed for money, Capote in effect kills for his book. Although we all have benefited from the great book that resulted, we might well ponder whether it was worth the price. As the film credits are about to scroll up we are told that Truman Capote, author of Breakfast at Tifanney’s and “A Christmas Memory.” never wrote another book during the rest of his alcohol-saturated life.

For reflection/Discussion

1) What did you think of Capote when you first met him in the film? What do his friends, such as Nelle Harper Lee, see in him? How is he able to gain the confidence, and thus the cooperation of people, so well? Who are the people that Capote manipulates to get what he wants, and how does he do it?

2) What book does Capote give to the prisoners? When Perry (?) asks why the author Thoreau was in jail, what do you think of the answer, “They say for not paying taxes, but really it was for being an outsider”? How are all three men outsiders?

3) Were you aware before that Nelle Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, was such a good friend of Capote’s? How does his self-centeredness show up when her book was published and made into a movie?

4) How, after Capote abandons Parry, does the latter seem to be more “Christian” than the famous author?

5) How does Nelle Harper Lee serve at times as Capote’s Jimminy Cricket? How is this an important part of having and being a friend? Can you think of instances in your life in which you or a friend played such a role?

6) Do you believe that Capote lost his soul in the writing of the book? If you were faced with such a consequence would you go ahead anyhow?