Skip to main content

Well, he hasn’t actually written a word of it yet. But he says, it’s the non-fiction book of the decade.

Capote
(2005)

(SPOILERS) Another (relatively) recent Best Picture Oscar nominee I missed first time round, and then subsequently didn’t really feel very compelled to chase up. Perhaps it was the vying Truman Capote pics (I’ve also yet to see Infamous) putting me off, or possibly just being underwhelmed by everything Oscar that year (which hasn’t changed). I can certainly see why the late Philip Seymour Hoffman received the Best Actor award for Capote, though, since the eccentrically mannered title character is precisely the kind of studied, showy performance the Academy laps up.

Hoffman duly holds the attention, as does Catherine Keener, contrastingly underplaying as Nelle Harper Lee. “And how’d you like the movie, Truman?” she asks at a screening of To Kill A Mockingbird, after the perma-self-absorbed Capote, sat drinking alone at the bar, has finished a self-indulgent outpouring about how Death Row inmates’ appeals are all about him: “It’s torture. They’re torturing me”.

But Capote’s actual content, focusing on Truman’s cold-blooded manipulation (and then shunning) of murderers Smith and Hickock in pursuit his story and resultant book, rather than the acts and aftermath themselves, feels as distracted as its title character. Perhaps that’s by necessity, and it would be pointless to retread the ground of In Cold Blood – already made into an acclaimed documentary-style feature by Richard Brooks a year after the novel was published – but I expected to find Capote, the natural raconteur, transfixing, rather than mildly diverting.

That may be part and parcel of director Bennett Miller’s low-key approach, which can work superbly (Moneyball) or leave results feeling somehow lacking (Foxcatcher, like Capote written by actor friend Dan Futterman). The proceedings are chock full of examples of Truman twisting events to his advantage or outright lying when it suits him (or unconvincingly telling himself lies). But in his close relationship with Clifton Collins Jr’s Perry Smith (who eventually admitted to the killings), there is initially an effective blurring of lines between his professed empathy for and close connection with his subject; his partner Jack Dunphy, played by Bruce Greenwood, is convinced Capote is in love with him. Yet Truman’s inherently over-dramatising nature manufactures such circumstances around him, exemplified by his melodramatic protesting of Smith’s continuing attempts to contact him.

Later, Capote plies Smith with bare-faced lies, both minor (that the title for In Cold Blood didn’t come from him, and wasn’t even finalised) and major (“I did everything I could. I truly did” he protests, having done absolutely nothing to help their appeal). And so one concludes that his sociopathic tendencies, feeling nothing for anyone but for himself, evidence the strongest link with the man towards whom he professes empathy (as Capote analogises, he went out of the front of the house “they lived in” while Smith went out of the back, and their paths duly lead where they did).

Ultimately, I felt Miller was probably the wrong director for Capote; the greater achievement of telling this story would have been to make the viewer complicit with Capote’s actions, repelled by his behaviour yet willing him to succeed for all his base motives. The postscript simplistically implies Truman’s failure to complete another novel following In Cold Blood was a consequence of his behaviour in respect of the case, yet this Capote has been characterised by blithe bluntness (announcing to Chris Cooper’s detective he has no interest in who committed the crimes), self-glorification (permanently “factualising” the fiction of their own life story), procrastination and nascent alcoholism throughout. 


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You guys sure like watermelon.

The Irishman aka I Heard You Paint Houses (2019)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps, if Martin Scorsese hadn’t been so opposed to the idea of Marvel movies constituting cinema, The Irishman would have been a better film. It’s a decent film, assuredly. A respectable film, definitely. But it’s very far from being classic. And a significant part of that is down to the usually assured director fumbling the execution. Or rather, the realisation. I don’t know what kind of crazy pills the ranks of revered critics have been taking so as to recite as one the mantra that you quickly get used to the de-aging effects so intrinsic to its telling – as Empire magazine put it, “you soon… fuggadaboutit” – but you don’t. There was no point during The Irishman that I was other than entirely, regrettably conscious that a 75-year-old man was playing the title character. Except when he was playing a 75-year-old man.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

You're skipping Christmas! Isn't that against the law?

Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Ex-coke dealer Tim Allen’s underwhelming box office career is, like Vince Vaughn’s, regularly in need of a boost from an indiscriminate public willing to see any old turkey posing as a prize Christmas comedy.  He made three Santa Clauses, and here is joined by Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple planning to forgo the usual neighbourhood festivities for a cruise.

It's their place, Mac. They have a right to make of it what they can. Besides, you can't eat scenery!

Local Hero (1983)
(SPOILERS) With the space of thirty-five years, Bill Forsyth’s gentle eco-parable feels more seductive than ever. Whimsical is a word often applied to Local Hero, but one shouldn’t mistake that description for its being soft in the head, excessively sentimental or nostalgic. Tonally, in terms of painting a Scottish idyll where the locals are no slouches in the face of more cultured foreigners, the film hearkens to both Powell and Pressburger (I Know Where I’m Going!) and Ealing (Whisky Galore!), but it is very much its own beast.

We’ll bring it out on March 25 and we’ll call it… Christmas II!

Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
(SPOILERS) Alexander Salkind (alongside son Ilya) inhabited not dissimilar territory to the more prolific Dino De Laurentis, in that his idea of manufacturing a huge blockbuster appeared to be throwing money at it while being stingy with, or failing to appreciate, talent where it counted. Failing to understand the essential ingredients for a quality movie, basically, something various Hollywood moguls of the ‘80s would inherit. Santa Claus: The Movie arrived in the wake of his previously colon-ed big hit, Superman: The Movie, the producer apparently operating under the delusion that flying effects and :The Movie in the title would induce audiences to part with their cash, as if they awarded Saint Nick a must-see superhero mantle. The only surprise was that his final cinematic effort, Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, wasn’t similarly sold, but maybe he’d learned his lesson by then. Or maybe not, given the behind-camera talent he failed to secure.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

On a long enough timeline, the survival of everyone drops to zero.

Fight Club (1999)
(SPOILERS) Still David Fincher’s peak picture, mostly by dint of Fight Club being the only one you can point to and convincingly argue that that the source material is up there with his visual and technical versatility. If Seven is a satisfying little serial-killer-with-a-twist story vastly improved by his involvement (just imagine it directed by Joel Schumacher… or watch 8mm), Fight Club invites him to utilise every trick in the book to tell the story of not-Tyler Durden, whom we encounter at a very peculiar time in his life.