Starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Chris Cooper, Bob Balaban, and Bruce Greenwood. Written by Dan Futterman, adapting the Gerald Clarke biography. Directed by Bennett Miller. Rated R, 98 minutes.
Kansas currently strikes a chord in the scientist's heart because of its initial state board of education's point of view that Creationism needed to be taught as an alternative to evolution. Then there's the Wizard of Oz connection, with most people remembering the line, “Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.”
Not many, though, remembered the cold west Kansas town of Holcomb before Truman Capote came to investigate and write an account of the Clutter murders committed in cold blood in the late 1950s.
Capote broke onto the scene writing Other Voices, Other Rooms, a collection of short stories, and more famously, Breakfast at Tiffany's. But his celebrity stems from his new art form of the journalistic novel and his chilling account of the Clutter murders.
This movie, an unforgettable biopic, painstakingly recounts the writing of that novel.
Truman Capote was an openly gay man before the term was coined, and lived flamboyantly with fellow writer Jack Dunphy in New York City. Their relationship is plopped on this movie as if everyone knew that and I'm sure left many wondering who this guy is played by Bruce Greenwood and what does he have to do with anything.
The supporting role of To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee, a childhood friend in Capote's native Alabama and his able cultural translator to the people of Holcomb, is played brilliantly by Catherine Keener. She rejoins her Adaptation costar Chris Cooper, who here plays Alvin Dewey, the Holcomb police detective who tracked down Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, the Clutter murderers.
Capote was a peacock in plain gray Kansas, and strolls in to meet the investigators with a fashionably long scarf and remarks, “Bergdorf Goodman,” to one of the detectives, who tips his fedora, announcing, “Sears Roebuck.”
The film juxtaposes the unlikely Capote befriending the killers and drawing them into his confidence. For many years, I remarked that the title In Cold Blood was an intentional double entendre—the murders, but also the cold—blooded way that the state took its time to execute Smith and Hickock.
The film carefully focuses on the depravity of Capote, with his unflinching self—absorption and shocking amorality in feeding his own ego and his novel without regard for the men he seemingly befriended.
A movie about betrayal of friendship is as old as Iago and Othello, but what makes this a standout is the Phillip Seymour Hoffman performance. He became more like Truman Capote than Capote himself—bulky where Capote was frail and anemic appearing, but the persona, the bravado, the arrogant egocentricity comes through as electrically charged.
Capote's simpering lisping nasal voice and effeminate gait are captured and brought back to life with Hoffman's riveting acting.
In the movie of In Cold Blood, Robert Blake played Perry Smith, and of course, decades later became ensnared in his own struggle with a murder trial. Blake was cocky and credible in the role of Smith, but Clifton Collins, Jr. is aptly cast and assumes the role of the wiser more worldly killer with some pretense of intellect, carrying himself in a way that brings credibility and the possibility of a jailhouse liaison between himself and Capote.
Bob Balaban's characterization of William Shawn, the persnickety editor of The New Yorker, is the least credible of the good performances.
The movie dissects Capote's evolution from a Manhattan talent into a creature turned ruthless in order to write this memorable book about these senseless murders. He becomes obsessed with the notion that his book and this story is more important than the lives or the trust that these foolish men place in him.
In short Capote himself helps hang Smith and Hickock in cold blood, and in a Faustian way, sold his soul for this masterpiece—a process that this movie captures precisely.