Reviewed by: The Exile

Like many abused and abandoned children, Truman Capote learned to love the one person who could be counted on never to leave: himself. And if Bennett Miller's film suggests he learned that lesson rather too well, it also persuasively argues that Capote's troubled past and overweening narcissism were as essential to his skills as a writer as his ability to craft a sentence.

"Sometimes, when I think how good my book can be, I can hardly breathe," he confesses to his editor while writing In Cold Blood, the seminal "nonfiction novel" at the heart of the film. It's almost as if he knew its publication would both immortalise and suffocate him.

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Capote focuses exclusively on the subject of the book: the five years between the infamous 1959 murder of a Kansas family and the execution of the killers, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. Dark, stately and utterly absorbing, the movie addresses serious moral issues - journalistic ethics, the exploitation of the vulnerable for personal gain - but it isn't a morality tale. It's a study of a man destroyed by a talent which, by 1959, has made Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) a flamboyant fixture in New York literary circles. A plump, baby faced Southern boy with a martini in one hand and the other roaming the air for emphasis, he holds court with perfectly detailed anecdotes - a natural drama queen.

His decision to write about the killings seems doomed to failure, his swirling scarf ("Bergdorf's," he snips when it attracts curious Midwestern stares) and effeminate gestures as alien to the locals as Manhattan itself. But as the humour of these scenes gives way to the serious work of getting information, his flamboyant lisp simmers to a seductive drawl; using neither notebook, nor recorder ("I have 94 per cent recall"), he gains people's trust with unexpected revelations of personal pain. Though probably true, these stories are brilliantly wielded instruments of insinuation and manipulation; even taciturn Kansas lawman Alvin Dewey (an indispensable Chris Cooper) is unable to resist.

But it's in the scenes between Capote and Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.), the younger, more educated and attractive of the two killers, that the film really starts to hum. Though providing legal help for both men, Capote gravitates to Smith, his interest juiced by a shared history of abuse.

"It's as if we were raised in the same house, and one day he stood up and walked out the back door and I walked out the front," he tells his friend, Nelle Harper Lee (a stoic Catherine Keener).

Nevertheless, his book needs an ending and the appeals process is dragging on; and as Capote wheedles and threatens and lies to get Smith to describe the night of the killings, Hoffman and Collins turn these scenes into an exquisitely balanced contest of wills.

Moving from blank Midwestern prairie to smoky Manhattan salon, Capote is an echo of a time when writers were celebrities and a New Yorker book reading was a major social event. The movie understands, therefore, the egocentrism that powers the desire to write and the ruthlessness required to see it through.

Neither admiring nor condemning, Hoffman and his director have given us a man who finds his voice but in the process loses his soul.

Reviewed on: 22 Jan 2006
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The story of how Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood.
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Chris ****1/2

Director: Bennett Miller

Writer: Dan Futterman, based on the book by Gerald Clarke

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., Chris Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, Bob Balaban, Amy Ryan, Mark Pellegrino, Allie Mickelson

Year: 2005

Runtime: 98 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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