I, like many others, thought “Ugh, ANOTHER Truman Capote movie, but this one with a cavalcade of stars? What-EVER,” but then the reviews came out saying it was good, and then a friend of mine saw it and told me I should be sure to see it… and then it left theaters. So now see it I did, and yes, it’s quite good, quite different, and very, very interesting.
This one is based on the book Truman Capote by George Plimpton, which is said to be “an oral history” rather than a more formal biography, and that may account for why this movie includes much more of Truman’s society friends and the New York high society world. We open at some exclusive nightclub where Gwenyth Paltrow [her only appearance in the entire movie] sings “What Is This Thing Called Love,” a question pertinent to the rest of the movie. She comes to a certain part of the lyrics and slows down, grows emotional, and for a time is unable to go on. We can see how Truman gravitates toward her emotional reveal. Then she snaps out of it and continues the song.
Now let’s divert for a second. My friend and I both interpreted this to be part of the ACT, that is, she was pretending to be personally affected in order to goose up the energy of her show. Neither of us thought, I guess, that this would be a trick she would only be able to use a few times, and in retrospect I can see that this interpretation was a result of coming in from the OTHER Truman Capote movie, and MY assumption that this one must also traffic in Capote’s emotional manipulation. We saw Truman as learning from this example of someone expertly heightening emotion through artificial means. Well, just goes to show you something or other, because on the DVD commentary Douglas MacGrath says that the incident is based on a performance of Barbara Cook’s that he attended where she was unable to get through a song, and he thought this would be good opening for his film, as it will foreshadow how Truman gets emotionally entangled and breaks down. Sound more sincere and non-ironic? Well, that’s the difference of this film from the other one.
We see him in his apartment, which is very lavish and features a large portrait of himself, although we are to understand that he didn’t have a huge place. He sees the story about the Clutter’s, brutally murdered in Kansas, and decides that he’s going to write about that. Now one of the things we’ve noticed so far is the difference of Toby Jones as Capote. His voice is much tinier and higher than Hoffman’s, and HE IS SHORT. So this movie has a strength in his characterization, as the physical appearance of this guy is just so strange, which goes a long way toward helping one accept that this was a truly odd character who behaved in a fairly warped way.
We have actors playing real people deliver monologues in the form of interviews about Truman. Juliet Stevenson is hilarious as Diana Vreeland. Then Sandra Bullock appears as Harper Lee and tells a story about how Truman was in a parade, and wrote to his parents, who had abandoned him years earlier, trying to get them to come. He lied to them and told them he was the STAR of the parade. Lee says that when he saw that they hadn’t shown, he did cartwheels down the street until he stopped crying. Yes, one could focus on that he did this so people wouldn’t see him crying, but I think it’s interesting that when in emotional distress he channels his turmoil into an extravagant performance.
So Truman and Lee arrive in Kansas in a beautiful shot of them standing before a big red train. The train pulls away and we see the vast expanse of nothingness behind them. It’s good—but I think it would have been better had there been at least one shot previously of the confined streets of Manhattan, so we could have that as contrast. My friend also thought it was a funny visual joke, as there is a line on the train that lets us know that Bullock and Jones are pretty much the same height. For someone whose focus has been in screenwriting [check], McGrath has a very intelligent visual sense.
They go directly to the courthouse where they meet Jeff Daniels as the DA, giving a press conference about the murders. Truman interrupts, and, just hearing his voice, Daniels thinks he’s a woman. Truman cones on strong [and is dressed in this item from Cruella de Vil’s wardrobe] but he is rebuffed by everyone. Then there’s a scene in which Nell [that’s Harper Lee] tells him to tone it down, and he says “You of all people know how impossible it is to moderate myself.” Next follows a HILARIOUS group of scenes in which Truman and Nell RUN up to people on the street and say “Excuse me! Can you comment on the gruesome murders of July 17th?” [or whatever the date was]. Can you imagine being some good country people who perhaps knew the family that was tragically killed, and this tiny effeminate nebbish is RUNNING at you asking you to comment on the “gruesome murders?” That whole thing cracked me up. Anyway, Truman is getting nowhere. And the whole thing of him being called “lady” by everyone is starting to wear thin.
He gets to see the crime scene, and later is shopping in the grocery store when the DA’s wife invites he and Nell to Christmas dinner so they won’t be alone. Nell says she brought a fruitcake and Truman says “And she doesn’t mean me,” directly addressing everyone’s unspoken discomfort with his persona. Things are quite strained—I was thinking in here that Jones and Daniels could spin off a hilarious sitcom about a droll cop and a flaming nellie, as they have wonderful comic chemistry—until Truman starts dropping the names of stars, which impresses the Kansans enough to listen to him and find out what an interesting raconteur he is. From then on, he has access to the whole town.
Then the important scene wherein he tells Nell that he’s writing a nonfiction novel, and she lays down the line that it either is true or it isn’t. The question is never resolved, and Truman goes ahead with his project. You will notice that Nell starts quietly pulling away from this point on. Incidentally, Capote never took notes during his interviews, relying on his “memory method,” so there is undoubtedly some misremembering of the truth. Though of course there would also be no notes to check it against.
SPOILERS > > >
Anyway, then they catch the killers. There’s Dick and Perry, played by current James Bond Daniel Craig. Perry stares at Truman upon entering the courthouse, which I found to be a little OTT, but whatever. Truman talks to Dick, who opens up easily. He tells Truman that Perry wouldn’t let him rape the Clutter girl, but made special effort to put a pillow underneath the head of the Clutter boy. Which makes Dick think that Perry may be a homo.
So about an hour in, Perry starts talking to Truman. He is very distrustful, however, initially saying “I am an not a character! I am a human fucking being.” This exclamation, by the way, brings out the tough side of Truman, who says “You can participate of not,” but he’s going to write the book regardless. Truman sends the inmates pornography, which Perry is insulted by, then he sends his own books, but Perry finds that he “sneers at Holly Go-Fuckin-Lightly.” Anyway, eventually Truman reveals that his mother killed herself, and this makes them bond, as Perry’s mother killed herself as well. This actually made me wonder if Dick had told Truman this, and he was just lying to get in with Perry. But I’m just a distrustful person, I guess, always ready to assume the worst in people.
There’s an interesting scene in which Perry talks about being a child in a room where his parents were fucking, and they show it via the adult Craig lying there in the bed. I wonder if this was a steal from Obsession or Sisters, but I think it’s also been done elsewhere. Anyway, at one point Truman blows on Perry in a way that is quite homoerotic, and then when Perry finds out that Truman is going to name the book In Cold Blood [after he had promised a sympathetic portrait] Perry threatens to rape Truman, making him pull down his pants and stuff a rag in his mouth, but refuses to do it.
Then there’s a flashback to the actual murder, and when we see the Clutter boy, the one that Perry put a pillow beneath before shooting, he is straight out of a gay porn cartoon. Dick is heard to accuse him of being “homo.” It’s all working pretty well, because the intimations of Perry being homosexual are slowly creeping in without any definitive statement.
There is a very good, but very quick, little insert shot of Truman reading through three different versions of the same dramatic speech, deciding which one is the most effective. This one shot does a lot to establish this film’s view of how much of the story is “true.” We learn from the commentary that McGrath wanted to call the movie “Every Word Is True,” because that is what Capote often said about the novel.
Anyway, soon Perry is lamenting that he has “found the one person I want to be with, but I can’t.” Then they full-on make out. We learn on the commentary that a guard said he was paid to go away so they could have sex. Other than that, I’m unclear [and would like to know] what evidence there is to support this reading.
Then comes the period in which Truman has to wait for Perry to die in order for his book to come out. This is presented as much more emotionally wrenching here, because Perry is presented as Truman’s lover, although we still get snatches of the Truman we think we know a he stands at a Manhattan window and says “He should apologize. That would make him really sympathetic.” He then goes and tells Perry to apologize, and one gets the sense this was hoped for because it would make smashing reading in the book.
Eventually Perry is hung, Truman is devastated, and we get all the stuff about how his life was a shambles after that, and Nell comes on to say that “there were three deaths that night.”
< < < SPOILERS END
When this movie ended I was like “Oh my God! That was SO much more interesting than the other one!” [But then I recalled that I thought the other one was quite rich and fascinating as well.] But over the course of a few days, the first one, Capote, strikes me as a trifle more rigorous. That one really takes Capote to task, constructing an elaborate condemnation of him and his actions. In this movie, he’s a little impish, but he is given a lot of forgiveness for his moral actions because, it says, he was in love. He didn’t expect to get so emotionally involved, and it ended up destroying him. So this one is a little softer, more generous-spirited [not a virtue in my book], and more sentimental. But they are both quite different, quite interesting, and very much worth seeing. It’s actually completely fascinating to see how one can arrive at two wholly different stories out of the same story and characters.
Everyone is good to very good. Jones is excellent and flawlessly consistent as Capote. Sigourney Weaver has an excellent monologue at one point. I was able to forget that Sandra Bullock was Sandra Bullock by the end of the movie, which I consider a pretty mean feat, considering how very much she is SANDRA BULLOCK in almost every movie she’s in. As I said, the commentary was a disappointment, as usual. No one ever talks about the things you actually want to know. Here I wanted to know how much of the romance at the heart of the film was true, and I wanted to hear McGrath’s thoughts on how this movie differed from the other film. But No! We must pretend that the other film never existed!
Anyway, really good and interesting on its own, but more so if you’ve seen the other film or are familiar with Capote’s life or works.
Yes, very interesting and well done.
CAPOTE is another wonderful and very different film telling the same events with a strikingly different outcome.