U.S. Release Date: September 30, 2005
Distributor: Sony Classics
Director: Bennett Miller
Producer: Philip Seymour Hoffman (executive)
Composer: Mychael Danna
Cast: Chris Cooper, Amy Ryan, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins, Jr.
Running Time: 1 hour and 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (some violent images and brief strong language)

Dark Drama Details Truman Capote's Downfall
by Scott Holleran

Effeminate writer Truman Capote sashaying half-loaded onto various 1970s talk shows was not pretty. His acid tongue predated today's vile entertainment press, with their endless verbal assaults (and, lately, physical ones), in a biting style that has become widely accepted. Capote, a compelling cultural time capsule, goes to the source of the writer's demise.

As it does, delving into a heinous 1959 crime that served as an ominous warning of the coming counterculture—replete with anti-heroism and a glamorization of evil—this well-constructed account raises intriguing questions.

Almost 50 years after Capote wrote In Cold Blood, the groundbreaking true crime novelization which is the focus of this intelligent picture, journalism is at a low point, and, whatever director Bennett Miller's intentions, Capote's downfall anticipated the fate of his profession. Remember that debunked Oprah-approved author who fictionalized crime and punishment? He was vilified for the same endeavor which earned Capote praise.

There are crucial differences, related to book publishing, but disturbing similarities remain and Capote, which captures his sense of purpose, doesn't sugarcoat them. By bridging the gap between the high-pitched Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's and his talk show years—he never wrote another book after In Cold Blood—the movie, written by Dan Futterman, softly illuminates America's moist, malevolent underbelly in the 1950s.

Contrasting an orange-pink Kansas dawn with New York's pretentious intellectual scene, the story begins the morning after the mass murder of the Clutter family at a farm in western Kansas. This was before Oswald assassinated Kennedy—before Manson murdered the beautiful people—before grisly murder was a nightly tease for cable news—and, reading about it in the newspaper, Capote wanted to know why.

That may have been his gravest error, though the crime was a legitimate subject for study, for it was motivated partly by the approval of others. Yearning to be the center of attention, flaming Capote, played to perfection by Philip Seymour Hoffman, plunged into the lives not of the victims but of the perpetrators.

They were Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) and Perry Smith (Clifton Collins, Jr.), a pair of crippled ex-cons who'd heard of the Clutter farm and figured they could score some cash and maybe rape a virgin. Each member of the family—a girl, a boy and their parents—wound up knotted in ropes and with a shotgun blast to the head. Capote delivers why it happened and how finding it out consumed one rising young writer.

Capote rides into Kansas on the afternoon train—accompanied by his sober friend and assistant, Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), author of To Kill a Mockingbird—and uses his outsider status to work his way into interviews with the murderers, especially Perry Smith, to whom he takes a liking.

Relating to Smith's troubled tale—what monster doesn't have one?—and under pressure from his publisher, Capote can't finish the book until he gets the whole story, which means lying, becoming fully invested in a loser whose own sister knows he's evil—and the murderers completing their sentence of death by hanging.

Though director Miller's attention is necessarily paid to Capote's relationships, the movie condenses too much of the crime, omitting the murder of Mrs. Clutter, a helpless invalid, the last to be shot to death—she must have heard her husband's and children's final pleas—and the weakest person in the family.

But, with outstanding performances—including stern Chris Cooper (October Sky) as the top cop and Eight Below's Bruce Greenwood as Capote's lover—and smooth editing, Capote is the tense tale of a man whose goal, if reached, negates its rewards.

Buy on DVD
DVD Notes
As moody as the movie, the single disc edition of Capote on DVD includes footage of Truman Capote, though not enough of it, three features and two commentaries; one with director Miller and actor Hoffman—a real perfectionist—and one with Miller and photography director Adam Kimmel.

The features are solid, despite lacking an account of the writer's life and other writings. Among the tidbits: the picture's opening credits are intended to orient the viewer to the pace of the movie. Editor Chris Tellefsen relates when to go long on a scene. Kansan Chris Cooper talks about how his grandmother met Capote.

Someone mentions recreating a "timeless, brown, ugly winter" and you're smack dab in Kansas—in the presence of those who bring this part of Capote's career into a view as clear and stark as the Clutter farm's bare trees. Watch for a long, slow train low on the horizon to appreciate the effort that went into making this intellectual odyssey.

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