The Truman Show
His novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s was banned in the little town of Holcomb, in the ass end of Kansas, when Truman Capote went there in late 1959 to investigate the brutal murders of a local farm family. It’s not a fact that Capote makes a big deal out of — it’s just sort of slipped in sideways in an interesting revelation about one of the locals — but it’s a tidbit that keeps niggling at the back of my mind. The irony of it, you know: Capote was so moved by the short article in The New York Times about the murders, reading in his brownstone in Brooklyn, that he went to Holcomb before the crime was even solved, determined to write about the dead family and the impact the killings had on the close-
Except that makes the fine folk of Holcomb sound like unsophisticated bigots or, at best, rubes, and they aren’t at all, at least in how they’re portrayed here. They’re good, decent people — and not in that way that is a euphemism for “unsophisticated bigots or, at best, rubes,” either. (This may be entirely due to yet another supernaturally astonishing performance by He Who Walks on Water, Chris Cooper [The Bourne Supremacy, Silver City], as Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Alvin Dewey, who speaks volumes of rage and grief and disdain with the smallest quirk of his lips or the tiniest shrug of his shoulders.) So the banned-
But Capote isn’t about the good people of Holcomb or even about the murders that shattered the town — not really. It’s about, although this only slowly becomes clear, Truman Capote’s capacity for self-
Director Bennett Miller and screenwriter Dan Futterman (the actor, from Enough and Urbania and other films, making his writing debut), working from a book by Gerald Clarke, brilliantly skitter around the edges of the crime: this is not a courtroom drama or an apologetic for the criminals — though some of the people of Holcomb clearly fear that’s the direction Capote is heading in with his book. As the film settles into its grimly riveting unpeeling of Capote’s psyche, scenes that could have been about actually getting answers to mysteries — like, Just why the hell did the killers do what they did, anyway? — only raise intriguing questions, like What is Capote’s real motive in befriending one of the murderers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.: The Rules of Attraction, Traffic)? Is it a strange infatuation? Is it a genuine desire to see justice done? Or is the writer just a user, excavating this “goldmine” for a great story?
The questions are never answered, and perhaps never could be any more than this question is: Is Capote selfish? He certainly behaves rather abominably at points to Harper and to his lover, writer Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood: Being Julia, I, Robot), abandoning them for his work even as they beg for his attention. Maybe a great artist must be selfish, and great art is necessarily the result of selfishness?
There are no answer to be found in Capote, except — maybe — in the greedy glittering of Hoffman’s eyes.