Thursday, October 06, 2005

Capote: A 20th Century Faust

A friend wrote to me: "Go see Capote. " She was right.

Yes, that's a thumb's up, WAY up. The movie is a beautiful assemblage of perfectly chosen parts, from the fine details of both Manhattan and Middle-American life in 1959, to the measured steps of the screenplay, the beautiful editing and cinematography, and the performance at the center of the film, Philip Seymour Hoffman's Truman Capote. There are also wonderful smaller performances that haven't gotten much attention from reviewers yet, perhaps because they are made in the shadow of Hoffman's achievement: Catherine Keener, as Nell Harper Lee, the conscience of the story; Clifton Collins, Jr., who protrays the killer Perry Smith with grace, charm, and flashes of utter evil; and Chris Cooper, who plays the upright Kansas lawman with contained ferocity.

When I was old enough to read In Cold Blood, Capote had already dissolved into a boozy caricature. I could never quite connect the man with his writing. Now I understand the connection between the glorious writing and the alcoholic wreck: "In Cold Blood" was the product of a Faustian deal, its title an apt description not only of the 1959 crime but of the process required to extract the raw material for the book from the criminals and their victims who lived it.

Go see it.


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