© 2005 Ray Wong

Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins, Jr., Chris Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, Mark Pellegrino
Director: Bennett Miller
Writers: Dan Futterman (based on book by Gerald Clarke)
Distributor: SONY Classics
MPAA Rating: R for violent images, brief strong language
Running Time: 98 minutes

Script – 8
Performance – 9
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8

Total – 8.1 out of 10

When Truman Capote first set out to write a short article for the New Yorker, he had no idea how the story was going to change his life. Or how the eventual creative non-fiction, In Cold Blood, would make him the most famous American author of his time and change the American literary world altogether.

On a bleak wintry morning, a Kansas girl finds an entire family murdered. Thousands of miles away in New York City, sophisticated writer Capote (Hoffman) is telling his raunchy stories at a cocktail party. Later, he decides to research and write a story on the killings, and sets off to Kansas with his dear friend Nelle Harper Lee (Keener), who has just finished writing a novel entitled To Kill a Mockingbird.

During the following few months, Capote and Lee interview the townsfolk, including Sheriff Alvin Dewey (Cooper) who is heading the investigation. Soon, two men, Richard Hickock (Pellegrino) and Perry Smith (Collins), are apprehended, tried and convicted for the murders. Seeing Smith’s gentle and thoughtful side, Capote reaches in and manipulates him to tell his life stories. He makes Smith believe that he’s writing a sympathetic portrayal. Smith, on the other hand, also manipulates Capote to help him with his appeals. Four years later, Capote becomes so absorbed in the book and obsessed with the man that he can’t separate himself from it all. Smith still refuses to tell Capote what really happened on that fateful night. As Smith’s execution draws near, Capote slowly sinks into madness and depression, not only with trying so desperately to finish the daunting book, but also with the conflicted feelings he has for Smith.

Hoffman (ALONG CAME POLLY) is the Jamie Foxx of 2005. He so truly immerses himself as Truman Capote that he becomes the gay, peculiar, eccentric, self-absorbed writer himself. Physically, Hoffman has a striking resemblance to Capote. Complete with candid mannerisms, vocal inflections, and facial expressions, Hoffman is going to turn a lot of heads at the Oscars this year. Pit against Hoffman’s showy role, Keener (40 YEAR-OLD VIRGIN) offers a more subdued, understated, but equally impressive performance as great American author Harper Lee. Her gentle and resolute demeanor is, ironically, the yang to Hoffman’s ying.

Collins (MINDHUNTERS) is solid as the deep but deceitful Perry Smith. His portrayal of the complex man, who could be soft and worldly one minute then violent and cold another, is chilling and remarkable. Pellegrino (NATIONAL TREASURE) is smug and sinister in his relatively minor role as Hickock. Greenwood (BEING JULIA) is in fine form as Capote’s lover and fellow writer Jack Dunphy, while Cooper (BOURNE SUPREMACY) serves up another solid performance as the taciturn sheriff.

First time screenwriter Futterman has done a great job adapting Clarke’s book on the writing on In Cold Blood to the big screen. The dialogue is often sharp and insightful, capturing the essence of the time and the spirit of the characters. While the plot is complicated and fascinating, it’s never convoluted or confusing. We don’t always know what’s in Capote’s mind -- or Smith’s, for that matter -- but that makes the story even more captivating. The relationships (between Capote and Smith, Lee and Dunphy) are crucial to the intimate nature of the film, and the murder case serves as a good mystery. The script is intricate with themes and nuances as well.

Director Miller (THE CRUISE) has a deft style, sending us back to the late 50s and early 60s, and juxtaposes effectively the sophistication of the writers’ world in New York and Spain with the stark harshness in the corn fields and penitentiaries in Kansas. Miller has a keen eye for composition, structures and colors. His pacing of the story is also pitch-perfect, never moving too fast or lingering for too long. Supported by a brilliant cast, Miller has crafted a mesmerizing tale of one of the most influential books and one of the world’s most fascinating writers: Capote.

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