A Guillt-Edged Triumph

The Evening Standard (London, England), February 23, 2006 | Go to article overview

A Guillt-Edged Triumph


Byline: DEREK MALCOLM

CAPOTE

Cert 15, 115 mins (4/5)

TRUMAN Capote once said that, if he had known what a struggle it would be to write In Cold Blood, about the Kansas murders that became one of the publishing sensations of the Sixties, he would never have started it.

There is a palpable sense of that struggle in Bennett Miller's film, thanks largely to a performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman which has already won him Bafta honours and could well produce an Oscar shortly.

It is the kind of precise portrait that looks at times suspiciously like a brilliant caricature of the eccentric gay writer with the squeaky voice and a consuming ambition to make his mark among the American literati. But somehow Hoffman swings it so that this fey Warhol-like figure, the author of Breakfast at Tiffany's, comes alive in all his odd glory. Bennett's camera hardly leaves him, and it is a measure of Hoffman's skill that we don't want it to.

It would be wrong, however, to think this is a one-horse movie. It is splendidly controlled throughout, even if, at the end, there are questions one wants to ask about both Capote and the almost inexplicable murder of four members of the farming Clutter family in the small, out-of-the-way town of Holcomb, Kansas. Accompanied by Harper Lee (the excellent Catherine Keener), a friend from his Alabama childhood who later won a Pulitzer prize for To Kill a Mockingbird, Capote travels to Holcomb and somehow, against all the odds considering his obvious strangeness to the locals, wins the trust of those leading the hunt for the killers.

When Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr) and Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) are captured and tried, he befriends them in jail. For him, this is a chance to write the great non-fiction book about the two Americas he found, one safe and secure, the other rootless and dangerous.

But, possibly because he was sexually attracted to the handsome, intense Smith, and certainly because he believed himself guilty of battening on them for his own purposes, the task becomes more and more difficult.

In the end, as he watches them hanged (at the request of the men themselves), he is almost unable to breathe. He knew that, if they died, he had his book. If they didn't, he was stymied. The film concludes that the guilt affected him for the rest of his life. He died an alcoholic, unable to complete another book, in 1984.

Bennett's story, written by Dan Futterman and taken from Gerald Clarke's book, does not explain fully either why the murders took place or what was going on in Capote's mind. It suggests robbery was the motive for the killings and that Capote's ambition finally got the better of his sympathy for the men. We are not told exactly how he tried to help them, nor the true nature of his friendship with Smith.

What we do learn is something about the struggle he had to write In Cold Blood, and a lot about how the two contrasting Americas coexist in uneasy proximity.

Blood and jokes don't mix

LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN

Cert 18, 110 mins (2/5)

SCOTTISH director Paul McGuigan, who made this film in America with a luxury cast and a considerable amount of money, directed Gangster No 1 in the UK, a violent but impressive East End thriller. Lucky Number Slevin is almost equally violent but has pretensions to be an ironic comedy.

Clever and genre-bending as the film often is, the blood and the jokes mix uneasily.

The central character is Josh Hartnett's Slevin, a man with permanent bad luck. When his life inevitably goes wrong in LA, he moves to New York, but once there he finds himself a marked man. This is because two criminals who hate each other's guts mistake him for the gambler who owes them money.

One is The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley) and the other The Boss (Morgan Freeman).

They have apparently killed each other's favoured sons and want someone to avenge them. …

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