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November 04, 2005


The Exploited
Truman Capote’s Tabloid Tragedy
By Cole Smithey

Capote Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a tour de force performance as Truman Capote in a film that matches Hoffman’s authentic representation by way of its precise scope and immaculate execution. The filmmakers focus on Truman Capote’s determination to write a "non-fiction novel" as a genre–revolutionizing device to elevate himself as a public figure of literary excellence alongside Proust and Tennessee Williams. Capote uses his fey manner and whiny voice like a Columbo-styled journalist detective who neutralizes people in his path to get close to the men accused of killing a wealthy family in Holcomb, Kansas. With drink as a constant companion Capote goes so far as to hire attorneys to arrange a stay of execution for the men so that he can get more information for his book from murderer Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.). The movie covers the six-year period that Truman Capote worked on "In Cold Blood" as it contributed equally to his fame and demise. "Capote" is a rare film of uncanny depth and insight.

Director Bennett Miller ("The Cruise") and screenwriter Dan Futterman (actor on "Will & Grace") provide evenly rich soil for the characters who surround Capote as willing and unwilling accomplices to his grab at literary success. Truman’s friend-since-childhood Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) plays a crucial role in helping Capote gain the trust of Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper), the sententious Kansas Bureau investigator heading the murderers’ inquest. Also significant is Capote’s editor at the New Yorker William Shawn (Bob Balaban) who accepts Truman’s pitch for the story and finances Capote’s extended duration to deliver the piece. Capote’s much-neglected lover Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood) exemplifies a crucial aspect of thankless support to Capote.

Truman Capote presents himself as a sympathetic opposite to everyone he encounters. His relationships with people are predicated on his ability to extract essential energy from them, so that when he leaves they are hollow shells. But the human wreckage that Capote invokes is at last reflected back to him when he meets with the killers in the moments just before their execution. Truman Capote was an original model of tabloid journalist who became trapped by his exploitation of the very people he desperately needed in order to be whole. "Capote" reveals a modern tragedy at the heart of a literary masterwork.

Rated R. 115 mins. (A) (Five Stars)


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