A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 602 – Capote

I’ll come out and admit, this is a late review. By a lot of time. I’m writing this in the fall of 2012, not quite a year since watching this movie for the first time. That’s going to be true of a lot of movies from here on, since I ran out of steam for writing a review every day and haven’t quite worked back up to it yet. For movies that I’ve seen a bunch of times, or things that I hated or things that really worked their ways into my head, well, that won’t matter much. For other movies, things have faded and I can remember bits and pieces, but not fully formed thoughts. I really should have taken notes for some things. Live and learn.

Fortunately, this movie stuck with me. It’s a fictionalized account of a real series of events, which, when you think about it, is a bit of a meta-textual situation, what with the story being about the writing of a novel about a true set of events. This isn’t a movie with pleasant subject matter and it doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s sad and unsettling and slightly disturbing but for some reason it didn’t affect me as viscerally as some other sad movies I’ve watched. I suspect it’s because there’s an aspect of removal here. The main character is unsettled, yes, but he’s also attempting to work with it and through it and use it for his own writing. He’s not an intrinsically unhappy person. He’s simply in a disturbing situation that he is also fascinated by.

The movie follows writer Truman Capote as he is introduced to and drawn in by the murders that eventually formed the basis for his book, In Cold Blood. It’s billed as a biographical movie, and that’s true to an extent, but it’s not telling Capote’s entire life story and it’s not telling much that doesn’t directly relate to the writing of his book. It’s a focused biographical movie, showing the effect the writing of the story and researching of the story has on Capote himself. And that effect is fascinating.

Really, this movie should be double-billed with Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool, which, coincidentally, I rewatched the other night. Both movies contain threads of fiction and fact and both stories are addressing the nature of involvement between events and the media reporting them. Here, Capote finds himself having to balance between his role as a writer, recording and reporting the details of the murders and the events and people involved, and his role as a confidant of one of the murderers, Perry Smith. Much of the detail he’s able to get and therefore write about comes from the fact that Smith ends up trusting him enough to speak to him. Becoming close to Smith allows Capote a more in-depth look at what he’s writing about, but it also places him in a position where he comes to care about what happens to Smith. At the same time, he doesn’t want to influence events because that would compromise his neutrality as a reporter. That conflict is the heart of the movie and it’s one that isn’t ever fully resolved. The movie ends on a note questioning that very theme.

It’s a quiet movie, and a somewhat sad one. Part of the sadness comes from the crime that started it all. It’s a terrible crime, or set of crimes, really. These aren’t sad-but-fictional murders. These people were real and these people were killed.

I wish I could think of more to say about this movie. I suspect it’s my own damn fault for not writing this review closer to watching the movie itself, but short of watching it again (which I just plain don’t have time to do right now), I’m not sure how better to get things moving. I also wish I had read Capote’s In Cold Blood prior to watching the movie about its’ writing.

I will say that I thought the acting was superb. Of course Philip Seymour Hoffman was amazing in the title role, but his is not the only fantastic performance. It’s just that he fills the movie in so many ways. After all, it’s a movie about Truman Capote and it’s a movie about his writing and his process and his difficulties and him as a person in this particular situation. So of course Hoffman is all over this movie. And if his performance had been at all lacking, the movie would have suffered for it. Thankfully, that’s not the case. But the movie would also have suffered had the supporting cast, like Catherine Keener as Harper Lee and Clifton Collins Jr. as Perry Smith not been so good.

I often find myself conflicted when it comes to movies presenting a fictionalized account of true events. Not conflicted about liking them – I do tend to enjoy historical pieces – but about how to view them. Obviously this is not a movie in which every word, every emotion, every glance, every moment is true to life. It isn’t a documentary. It was made with intent and bias and is the product of interpretation and fictionalization. Such pieces, be they books or movies, need to be viewed as fiction with a heavy dollop of reality as the base. Which is really quite relevant to this particular piece, given that its subject matter has to do with a nonfiction novel. I mentioned above that this movie should be double-billed with Medium Cool and I stand by that. Both movies are dealing not only with the topics of involvement and detachment in media, sensationalism and truth, but are doing so in a medium which forces questions about fact versus fiction, which is fascinating, to say the least.

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October 23, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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