Mansfield Fox

Law student. Yankees fan. Massive fraggle. Just living the American dream.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Capote: The Anti-Ray

I managed to catch Capote yesterday afternoon. (I also saw a midnight screening of Taxi Driver on which I'll hopefully post later.)

Capote is really great, and it really reveals the artistic bankruptcy of enjoyable but ultimately empty biopics like Ray and Walk the Line. Those movies make a big point of being "warts-and-all" portraits, willing and eager to show their subjects' failings. To a certain extent, this is true; no one would leave Ray or Walk the Line thinking Ray Charles or Johnny Cash were men without flaws.

But the movies are nevertheless hagiographies, because they are, at heart, crude and uncomplicated redemption narratives. Any facts that would complicate the sin-and-redemption arc are underplayed or omitted. The characters aren't permitted any flaws that won't ultimately be overcome. Thus, Ray focuses heavily on Charles' heroin addiction, which he overcame, but largely downplays his alcoholism, heavy marijuana use and serial womanizing (according to Wikipedia, he fathered 8 children out of wedlock, with 5 different women), which followed him all the way to the grave (and which, indeed, he never apparently saw as problems needing to be overcome).

Capote in contrast offers a much more complicated depiction of its main character. Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Capote is in many ways sympathetic, but in other respects is a deeply loathsome figure - duplicitous, callous, remarkably self-centered. He spends much of the third act hoping that the killers, whom he's befriended, will lose their appeals and be executed so he can finish his book. These conflicts aren't overcome. There's no resolution. The movie suggests the guilt follows Capote to the grave. This is real, honest biography, in which the subject's flaws serve as more than just uncomplicated fodder for an uplifting tale of redemption.