“Two worlds collided on that day. One is the quiet conservative world of this family – the other is the violent world of these two men…the dark underbelly of society.” - Truman Capote
Capote opens in the bleak, desolate flat farmlands of a place in Kansas even most Kansans had never heard of. Within minutes, the scene shifts to the smoke-filled alcoves of a Manhattan social event where Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman), laughing, tells an adoring circle of friends about another author who has written a novel about a black gay man in the South and his white male Jewish lover. “I’m not nearly that controversial,” he declares to the well-boozed crowd.
Perhaps not, but in western Kansas, Capote is controversial. When he enters the police station and notices the men staring at his scarf, he waves it at them and proclaims “Bergdorf.” Not exactly the way to win over the manly group.
“Sears and Roebuck” counters one man as he tips his hat on the way out the door.
“People here won’t talk to me,” Capote observes. “They hate me.” But he quickly and cleverly wins the townsfolk over. We see Capote’s charming method in the way he opens up to Laura Kinney, the girl who discovered the bodies in the farmhouse. “It’s hardest when someone has a notion about you because of the way you are – they’re always wrong,” he says. Later he’s the first writer to gain one-on-one access to Perry Smith, one of the defendants, by bribing the Sheriff’s wife with food, a newspaper and an inscribed copy of his latest novel. “They put you in the woman’s cell,” he says to Perry, highlighting the irony that for once, Capote’s not the only man in the room confined by his association with femininity.
Capote’s story engine is the gruesome multiple murder of a west Kansas family by Perry Smith and Richard Hickock.
Capote’s relationship with Perry Smith is the focus of the movie and has been the subject of much speculation over the years – was Capote in love with Smith? Did they manage to become lovers? Did Capote sugarcoat Smith’s role in the murders? Capote describes their relationship the best: “It’s as if Perry and I grew up in the same house and I went out the front door and he went out the back.”
Capote’s “two worlds” reference also summarizes his own life. He started out in dirt poor Louisiana and the backwaters of Alabama and his mother locked him in hotel rooms while she left to hook up with strange men. From these tragically humble beginnings, he became America’s most famous and celebrated author of his day, throwing lavish parties in Manhattan and traveling to the garden spots of the world on a whim.
No saint, Capote decides on “In Cold Blood” as the title for the book he will write about the murders. Smith, sitting in his jail cell on death row, angrily confronts Capote that he has read the title in the newspaper. Capote lies to Smith, telling him that the publisher picked the sensational title and that it’s not definite.
Later on, Harper Lee’s - Capote’s lifelong friend - book, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, becomes a movie but all a drunken Capote can do is lament “They’re torturing me,” referring to the troubles he has writing the ending of the book. About Harper’s movie, he barely mumbles “Frankly I don’t see what all the fuss is about.”
Given the journey he traveled and the heights he achieved, we can forgive Capote his shortcomings because ultimately he is the one who paid the price for failing to rid himself of his demons. He never wrote another novel after “In Cold Blood” and he died of complications related to alcohol. But he was well placed to express so intimately the beautiful tragedy that occurs when two worlds collide.
Director: Bennett Miller
Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener
Available on DVD - order here
Review by Rich Merritt
About the Author:
Author of Secrets Of A Gay Marine Porn Star, Rich Merritt graduated from Clemson University and became an officer in the Marines, serving nearly eight years on active duty. He “came out” at the age of 25 while stationed in Okinawa, Japan.
In 1998 Rich Merritt received an honorable discharge from the United States Marines Corps and in 2001 he graduated from the University of Southern California Law School. He is presently an attorney in Atlanta.