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Tue November 1, 2005
With most miraculous organ.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak/
With most miraculous organ." Hamlet
Yes, Hoffman is Oscar-worthy in Capote. No, you never learn how the acclaimed author of Breakfast at Tiffany's actually wrote, but you do see how he researches. The latter is aided by a 94% retentive memory, freeing him up to look at his subject with piercing eyes.
The subject of this film is as much the murderers of rural Kansas's four Clutter family members as it is about Capote. Perry Smith (Clifton Collins, Jr.) and Richard Hickock (Mark Pelligrino) were the subject of Capote's In Cold Blood, an innovative approach to historical depiction by way of fiction (non-fiction novel) that allows the author to intrude and create narrative pieces at will (Our "docudramas" are the descendants).
Hoffman's imitation of Capote's eccentric mannerisms and high voice is close to perfect, in the tradition of a flamboyant Southerner, but more is the sense that Hoffman understands and "inhabits" his character, a very modern method acting achievement. His relationship with Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), about to become famous for her To Kill a Mockingbird, is touching, especially since she appears to be someone who tells him off when necessary. Capote's interaction with his longtime lover, novelist Jack Dunphy, is treated with quiet grace. Smith occupies most of Capote's time and interest, some suggesting the gay author had fallen in love with him.
As if the complexities of Capote's relationships were not enough, director Miller and writer Futterman ever so gently weave in the possibility that Capote did not do enough to stay the executions because he needed to finish his novel, a feat he couldn't do without their deaths: "All I want to do is write the ending, and there's no end in sight." Capote's wrenching the story from Smith is the ongoing struggle that reveals the writer's manipulative and mendacious nature.
At the very least, Capote struggled with the business of his writing and his growing affection for Smith, strongly identifying with his abandonment as a child: "It's as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. One day, I went out the front door and he went out the back."
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com