The Truman show: Even-handed ‘Capote’ paints fascinating portrait


United Artists

Directed by Bennett Miller

Screenplay by Dan Futterman, based on the book by Gerald Clarke

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Bob Balaban and Chris Cooper

Rated R/98 minutes

Opens Oct. 28, 2005

Three-and-a-half out of four stars

Biopics are the new black.

Every way you look, there’s a new famous life story being put on screen, or films that are “based on a true story” or “ripped from the headlines.” Perhaps reality TV has something to do with this…

The latest biopic is “Capote,” which examines the persona of famed writer/socialite Truman Capote. Like many of the most successful films of this kind, “Capote” focuses just on certain elements of its subject’s life in order to get a grasp on him. Too many filmmakers approach biopics like a checklist, going from childhood to old age and frantically trying to cover every base, meandering long past the point of interest.

This film focuses on Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) during the writing of his nonfiction classic, In Cold Blood. The book tells the story of the 1959 murder of a Kansas family, the Clutters, perpetrated by Perry Smith and Richard Hickock.

The book is a masterpiece, the ensuing film adaptation of the same name, starring Robert Blake and Scott Wilson, was a masterpiece, and “Capote” comes pretty close.

While In Cold Blood is considered the best work of Capote’s career, it also ruined him. He never published another book, and he became an alcoholic. What is fascinating about this film is how it shows the ways in which Capote changed during the long six-year process that culminated in the killers’ hangings. He developed a close relationship with Perry Smith-he even fell in love with him-and learned everything of the case from him.

“I thought Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman,” Smith softly, remorsefully tells Capote. “I thought so right up to the time I cut his throat.”

But in the end, Capote just wanted the execution to take place so he could finally have an ending to his book.

The film doesn’t fall prey to hero worship but shows Capote as a complicated and narcissistic man.

This is not to say that Capote is uncaring-in fact, just the opposite is true. He is tortured by guilt, but he is very flawed, a man who is self-absorbed and obsessed with his work.

Hoffman plays the character with perfect effect-as he does with every character he has ever played.

One of the best in a film full of effective performances comes from Clifton Collins Jr., whose remarkable portrayal of Smith is laced with urgency and poignance.

Dan Futterman’s script is ingenious in the way it fills in the holes of Capote’s life through that of Smith, who had a similar upbringing and shared many connections to the author. “It’s like we grew up in the same house,” Capote said. “Then one day, he walked out the back door, and I walked out the front.”

In those words lie the heart of the film-we care not only about Capote and the demons of his personality, but also about Smith, the strangely intelligent yet misguided youth who was probably doomed from the start.

As those who have read In Cold Blood know, that sympathy was Capote’s whole point in the first place.

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