From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies.
So, I give you my very first regular feature: The Barenaked Archives. These are reviews that I did for SIN or Hollywood Elsewhere (or both). Sadly, SIN and my column on HE are both gone, so this is now the only place online you can see these old columns.
In Cold Blood
Truman Capote seems to be one of those authors that everybody’s heard of but nobody’s read, at least among people my age. Not many are keen on reading nonfiction, and Capote’s most famous work, In Cold Blood, is just that. However, that work also defined a new genre of nonfiction and immortalized Capote in the process. That’s a very rare thing in and of itself, and as a writer I also find it fascinating.
The movie Capote takes us back to those years in the early ’60s when Truman Capote set about researching and writing In Cold Blood, about the grisly murder of a Kansas family in November 1959. During that time, he befriended Perry Smith, one of the two men responsible for the murders.
Capote is not so much about the research or the writing. It does start out that way, but by the middle of the movie it’s as much a character study of Truman Capote and the lengths he’ll go to in order to get the interviews and information he needs for his book. Even though he’s manipulating others in the process, he’s also putting more and more of himself on the line, no matter how emotionally detached he acts. Ultimately, the film seems to question what sacrifices genius demands, and if it’s worth it.
Capote himself is portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who’s arguably one of the best actors working today. Chances are good that, even if you don’t recognize his name, you’ve seen him in something, be it Along Came Polly, Almost Famous, Magnolia, or Red Dragon, just to name a few.
Hoffman’s not just good here. He’s creepily brilliant. I was convinced the effeminate accent of the trailer would drive me insane in the movie, but it doesn’t. This is one of those wonderful times when you’re not watching a face; you’re actually seeing the actor become his character.
Capote really isn’t that sympathetic. He’s pretentious, arrogant, and self-involved. He drinks and smokes like the vices are going out of style. He has to be the center of attention, and he’s determined to get his story no matter what he has to do. He makes friends with the killers in the hopes of getting them to tell him about the night of the murders, but lies to and manipulates them as he’s trying to get the story. Capote gets them a new lawyer in hopes of keeping them alive long enough to get their story, but when appeals and stays of execution keep the killers alive for years, he starts to get frustrated that he can’t finish his book.
His best friend, Harper Lee (Catherine Keener, perhaps best known now for deflowering Steve Carell in The 40-Year-Old Virgin), is really the only person who will not only help and put up with him, but also call him on his hypocrisy. Keener is fantastic as the bluntly honest Lee, and we see her star rise with the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird during Capote’s struggle to write his book.
At the end of the movie, they explain that In Cold Blood was the last book Truman Capote ever finished, and there’s a quote that goes something like, “More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.”
Here we have a film about a talented man determined to make a mark in the literary world, and there’s no doubt that he does so. But by the end you have to wonder what it cost him psychologically, emotionally, and otherwise, and whether the cost of achieving his goal was more than he wanted to pay.