Philip Seymour Hoffman
Clifton Collins Jr
On a cold autumn evening in November of 1959, Perry Smith (CliftonCollins Jr) and Richard Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) broke into the home ofthe Clutter Family in Holcomb, Kansas.
Under the assumption that there werethousands of dollars hidden in the house, their motive was money. Theiractual monetary yield was US$50.
The aftermath of their actions wasfour dead members of the Clutter family. The murders shook the town ofHolcomb, but didn’t make much of an impact outside the area. The story waspushed to the back of most North American newspapers. People would readabout it, react briefly and move on.
Flamboyant writer Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who read aboutthe murders in The New York Times, would be an exception. Smelling anopportunity to write a non-fiction novel that would be as riveting asfiction, and one that, in his words, would change the face of journalismforever, Capote set out to Kansas to begin his research.
His workeventually became the iconic novel – and superb 1967 motion picture – InCold Blood, which did change journalism as we know it and, when all wassaid and done, helped the vicious act of Smith and Hickock claim one morevictim years after they had been executed for their heinous act: Capotehimself.
Once the persuasive and manipulative dandy of what would come to bethe Jet Set in New York City, Capote never wrote another fiction novel againafter In Cold Blood, and his escalating alcohol use in the followingyears would help end his life in 1984.
Based on the novels The Journalist and the Murderer by JanetMalcolm and Capote: A Biography by Gerald Clarke, Bennett Miller’sextraordinary drama Capote chronicles the researching and writingperiod of Capote’s novel and the devastating effects the process had on thewriter, his subjects and those closest to him in the process.
DanFutterman’s screenplay is a finely detailed cautionary tale of what happenswhen a writer gets too close their subject and unwillingly becomes part ofthe story, while Miller, displaying the type of controlled, assureddirectorial hand that is usually associated with a seasoned helmer (this isonly his second film following the 1998 documentary, The Cruise),does a remarkable job pulling the viewer slowly but seductively into auncomfortable, unsettling but fascinating world.
In most biopics (think Ray), your main character,and subject, is portrayed as a decent but flawed person who triumphs overadversity in the end. They do things that you may not approve of, but in theend you like them just the same. Capote is different. Miller andFutterman infuse Capote, both the character and film, with a level ofbrutal, welcome honesty and complexity. The Capote of this film is ashameless, egotistical self-promoter who manipulated and used those aroundhim to achieve literary glory, but one that also found himself strugglingwith the growing level of compassion within for the condemned murdererPerry.
It’s a complex character balance that is developed successfully by thewriter and director, and carried on by the remarkable Philip SeymourHoffman, who is this year’s sure bet to win the Oscar for Best Actor. The talented actordisappears into the role of the flamboyant writer with such ease that, muchlike last year’s award-winning turn by Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, we forgetthat we are watching an actor and not the real deal. Hoffman capturesCapote’s manoeuvring, arrogance, internal conflict and eventual fall fromgrace with such professionalism that he makes it look easy. In a youngcareer full of great performances, this is Hoffman’s best work yet.
Superb acting support comes from Catherine Keener as To Kill AMockingbird writer Harper Lee, Capote’s best friend and moral support,Collins and Pellegrino as the condemned murders, Bruce Greenwood as Capote’scompanion Jack Dunphy and Chris Cooper as Alvin Dewey, the local FBI agentleading the murder investigation. While Keener was recognised with a BestSupporting Actress nomination, Collins sadly was not – a shame.
Truman Capote was a great writer, In Cold Blood was a great bookand Capote is one of 2005’s cinematic greats.