If you are reading a book about a heinous murder, full of gory details you might think the author is some hard, tough as nails man, unshaven with a resonating deep voice. If that book happens to the ‘In Cold Blood’ then your mental description of the writer would be one hundred per cent off. Truman Capote was a little man, hardly 5’3", balding, a bit cubby with a trademark soft, high pitched voice. From this unlikely source came a novel that not only begat a sensational film but shook the literary world. Not only did the public find this book upsetting, it forever changed the life of Capote. The bio-pic Capote does not go into the early life of this author, it concentrates on how he was drawn into a terrible murder of an innocent family in Kansas and how that book was to haunt him for the rest of his life.
In 1959 Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) read an article about a successful Kansas farmer, Herbert Clutter. He, his wife and two teenaged children where found slaughtered in their rural homes. Capote phoned the editor of New Yorker magazine, William Shawn (Bob Balaban) and asked if he would be interested in an article about the murders. Soon, Capote was off to Holcomb, Kansas to start his research. Joining him was his life long friend and research assistant, Nellie Harper Lee (Catherine Keener). Lee was an aspirating author herself and working on her only book, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Initially, Capote was interested in the reaction of the small community to the crime, even telling the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, he was not even concerned with the actual killers. When two drifters, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Richard Hitchcock (Mark Pellegrino) were caught the focus changed to a profile of what sort of men could perform such a bloody act. The research for ‘In Cold Blood’ would take six years from the time Capote read that article to the execution of Smith and Hitchcock but the affect on Capote would consuming the rest of his life.
Capote found that all his previous relationships would suffer as a result of this project. He began to distance himself from his lover, Jack Dunphy (Bruce Geenwood), one of the most stable influences in his life. He began to become emotionally involved with Smith, exchanging love letters, the two men bonded extremely deeply. Capote even noted that he felt a kinship with Smith. In one of the most telling quotes from the film he states: "It's as if Perry and I grew up in the same house, and he stood up and went out the back door while I went out the front." He saw in Smith not a killer but a man who was abused, abandoned and misdirected. Smith was predisposed to becoming infatuated with a stronger male influence. Hitchcock had exploited this trait leading Smith to that Kansas farm house.
This is a film about contrasts. In Manhattan Capote was the one who would throw the most exclusive parties, he was an acerbic iconoclast that always needed to be at the center of attention. His exaggerated mannerisms where known by everyone in the right social circles and present at every sophisticated affair. When he went to Kansas he was looked upon not as the person to know but as the oddest person ever to set foot in the state. They had nothing to prepare themselves for an openly gay, alcoholic author. It took the more down to earth personality of Harper Lee to make any head way in the rural community. Lee would soon find her own fame; it seemed that one minute she was in Capote’s shadow and the next she was with Gregory Peck at the premier of Mockingbird. Jealousy began to split Capote from one of his older and dearest friends. In Cold Blood created a new genre in literature a new form of non-fiction. It also helped popularized a new form of writing, New Journalism. This was a highly stylized, third person view of events told in scenes with dialogue instead of quotations. Capote would never recover from the experience of writing this novel. He would author some articles until his death but this would become the last book he would ever complete.
I have enjoyed he career of Philip Seymour Hoffman for many years now. He has the uncanny ability to transform himself into the character he is playing. Whether he is playing a truly creepy person as he did in Happiness or a more like hearted roles as he had in State and Main, he was a character actor who always brought his role to life. Now that he is moving towards leading roles he has the background and experience to give one of the bet performances of the year. He goes beyond an imitation of Capote he embodies the quirky little man. As with the real Capote every movement is calculated. He uses his strange voice to throw people off hiding what is really under the surface. In Manhattan cocktail parties Hoffman depicts Capote has holding court, sitting there with superior attitude. He was a stranger in a strange land in Kansas, unable to initially relate to anyone there. What is really amazing about Hoffman’s performance is how he takes us along for ride as Capote implodes. His love-hate relationship with Perry would bring him to fame but the price was more than Capote could emotionally pay. Catherine Keener as Harper Lee is the emotion rock and center of the film. She is the one character that the audience can really connect to. She portrays Lee as a true friend to Capote but one that had her own career to consider. Clifton Collins Jr. had the task of playing a killer while still letting the audience gain some insight into the man. Most people will remember this character as done by Robert Blake in the film version of In Cold Blood. The key thing to Smith was how much he needed the approval and direction of a stronger personality. On the road it was Hitchcock but now has he faces a death sentence he turned to Capote.
This is the freshmen opus for New York born director Bennett Miller, what a way to break on to the scene. Miller has a natural talent for storytelling. He paces the film perfectly, letting the actors take control of events. His ability for framing and use of lighting is perfect. He shows Truman Capote with an unblinking eye, letting the audience see every aspect of a person who was basically not likeable. Miller doesn’t try to do a cradle to grave retrospective of this life, only on six year, pivotal period. The cinematography by Adam Kimmel has a grainy, almost voyeuristic feel to it that draws the audience in and holds them. The color is bleed out of the film increasing as Capote goes deeper into his disintegration.
Sony-Columbia/Tri-Star brings this film to DVD with attention to the technical details. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video is true to the film. As mentioned the color palette is intentionally bleak reinforcing the emotions of the story. The Dolby 5.1 audio gives a full feel to the sound stage. The rear speakers give an intimate feel and ambience. While some people may be hesitant because of the affected nature of he subject don’t let that deter you from seeing one of the finest performances of the year.