This movie is not for sissies. It is a powerful and gripping drama telling the tale of Truman Capote's relationship with a murderer on death row in Levenworth Kansas, a story which became enshrined in the prize winner novelesque work of non-fiction entitled 'In Cold Blood'. The movie deals with the brutal murder of a family in a tiny community of Holcomb Kansas in November 1959. Those expecting to see a thriller will be disappointed, as this is a character portrayal of two figures-- one of the murders Perry Smith and Capote himself. As it turns out, these two figures have more in common than one might expect. The story has no real suspense in regard to the fate of the killers. the suspense comes in telling the story of the relationship of these two men as it developed between 1960-65.
As I said, these two men had some similarities of background and nature. For one thing both of these men were abandoned by their parents early in life. Capote was eventually raised by aunts, while Smith finally ended up with his sister in an orphanage. Both of them also had a deep desire to be famous and appreciated. One of the more telling moments in the movie is when Capote reads from Smith's diary an imaginary acceptance speech where he tells the imaginary audience how grateful he was for their adulation. Of course Capote lived out this scenario in real life. Smith and Capote are both verbally gifted, artistic, extremely sensitive and shy, and both have a cold blooded side. Smith is a cold blooded killer, while Capote is a cold blooded glory hound and writer, prepared to lie at length to get what he wants out of Smith. On the one hand, Capote is prepared to say he feels like he grew up in the same house with Perry with the latter going out the back door and the former going out the front door. On the other hand, Capote is certainly using Smith to provide the fodder so he can write his magnum opus--- a historical novel which reads more like fiction, but is in fact a narrative of real events.
Capote was part of the N.Y.literary scene in the late 50s and early 60s. He hung out with a variety of persons including figures like Tennessee Williams and the authoress of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. And yet Capote had a curiosity, call it morbid or not, to get close to a killer and write his story, while pretending to befriend him. A funny thing happens along the way-- Perry Smith does become someone Capote does, and yet does not, care about. He can't make up his mind. And when he sees the hanging of Perry, it changes him irrevocably. Capote was never able to write another significant work after 'In Cold Blood' came out. He developed writer's block thereafter, and there is a sort of strange justice in this, since he was trying to build his own fame on the basis of a gruesome crime and the sensationalizing of it in a novel, while longing for the executions to hurry up and happen so he could finish his novel and get the whole experience over with.
Philip Seymour's portrayal of Capote is masterful and accurate from my memory of the man and what he was like. It is not a surprise that he won the Oscar for best actor for this performance. He even sounds like Capote and has his mannerisms down cold. This is truly an example of a performance 'in character'. But the movie also raises afresh the debate about capital punishment. If one was ever going to make a case for capital punishment this sort of hideous crime which the killers admitted to, provides a rationale for it.
But there are reasons for pause. In the first place a good case can be made that many innocent persons have been put on death row and executed. Can the executing of even one genuine killer justify the repeated taking of innocent life (since we are no all-knowing and make mistakes in our judgments of others)? I don't think so.
Secondly, I have as much problem with capital punishment as I do with abortion. In both cases we may well be talking about taking away a human life before they have had opportunity to be in right relationship with God. I especially stress this in regard to the living who are on death row. Who knows if they might not repent, even if they have done a crime, and receive Christ a week after there scheduled execution? Can we really say that executing an unsaved person is not sending them straight to hell? I for one would not want that on my conscience. So I would say that there is at least as good a case that can be made from a Christian point of view that opposes as that which endorses capital punishment.
Then there is one more thing. I think as Christians we are called to be totally pro-life, not just pro-life when it comes to the unborn. Did Jesus not say that he came that we might have life and have in abundantly? Does John 3.16-17 not say that it is not God's desire that any should perish but all should have everlasting life? What are the logical consequences of these theological ideas?
I cannot speak for others, but for me it means we should be totally pro-life-- opposing war, capital punishment, and abortion. I realize these three issues are not identical and one can make a reasonable case for supporting one sort of ban on taking life, while not objecting to others. I simply find this an inconsistent point of view. Are the unborn of more sacred worth than the born? I don't think so.
Is an innocent man wrongly convicted on death row somehow of less sacred worth than the innocent life in the womb? I don't think so. I would encourage those who are debating this to watch a movie like 'Dead Man Walking' or 'the Green Mile' and think about these things.
I am not interesting in arguing about rationales for capital punishment provided from OT covenants, since Christians are not under or obligated to those covenants. I believe we must stick to what the NT suggests about such things, and if we live by the Sermon on the Mount and the ethic of forgiveness and suffering violence rather than perpetrating it, then there are consequences to embracing such an ethic.
In the end, I would say go and see the movie 'Capote' if you are a mature Christian person. And ask yourself the question-- what thoughts does it prompt when you think about life and death issues?