Thoughts, notes, observations on the everyday nonsense of American Pop Culture from one of the most not-hip people on the face of the planet...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Capote is well worth the hype

Not so much a biography as a cautionary tale, Capote tells a story that at its core is a portrait of the dark side of journalism.

New York novelist/scenester Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman – deserving of every acting award ever) I’m sure bears a striking resemblance to many of today’s high society media literati. Effeminate, faux classy and just plain odd, Capote is a personality about town, known as much for his overwhelming ego as his literary abilities.

When he reads about the murder of a family in Kansas, he is compelled to head west to tell a story, mostly to satisfy his whims by writing for the New Yorker. Immediately upon arriving in the small town still shaken by the murders, he shows an utter lack of compassion by telling the case’s lead investigator, “I don’t care if you catch the guys or not, I’m just here to get a story.”

As appalling and horrible as that is – he speaks a dirty little truth about what it means to really be a journalist. Sure, Capote is emotionally affected by the case – but he’s honest enough to say what anyone who has ever reported a story feels: I’m just here to use you for information.

Capote grows close to the lead investigator and his family up until the murderers are caught, then he casts them aside in favor of better characters: Murderers Perry Smith and Richard Hickock. He develops an affectionate relationship with Smith that frequently crosses ethical boundaries. You can’t tell if he’s doing it because he wants information or because he cares about the man…. and you doubt he can tell either.

In becoming close to Smith and writing about the man’s background and eventual crime, Capote struggles, as all journalists do, with his own sense of morality. He needs an ending for his book, which is a success before it’s even half done. He needs the murderers to hang. Though he’s even sort of fallen in love with Smith, he prays for their appeals to end, closing up his book, closing up the chapter of his own life – and he hates himself for it.

Admittedly, deep down, journalists always pray for the worst – and we hate too ourselves for it. If someone is found dead, on some level, each and every one of us gleefully thinks, “maybe it was a murder” – followed by regret. We don’t want the bad guys to be caught. We don’t want the trial to be over. We don’t want peace. And every day, we think these horrible things and immediately feel disgusted by our own nature. Capote didn’t like the monster he had become in pursuit of his story – and it haunted him for the rest of his life.

And the film, perfectly done, is equally as haunting. Hoffman is utterly believable as the conflicted and conflicting Truman Capote and Catherine Keener is a calming presence as the budding author (and doormat best friend) Harper Lee. The pacing and surroundings are appropriately placed for time and setting, so much that the dreariness of rural Kansas almost seems to seep through the screen. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this film and its lead actors quite a bit during awards season. (Or so we can hope)