It is 1959 and Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman), fresh from his success with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, makes the circuit of New York’s rich and famous. He is a raucous raconteur, and entertains listeners in his effeminate style.
Uncertain of what his next project will be, in November he sees a newspaper story about the murder of a family of four in a remote Kansas town. Something tells him that this is the story that will define him as a writer. He calls his childhood friend, Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) who had just finished writing To Kill a Mockingbird to be his research assistant and they go to Kansas together.
Although the killers have not yet been caught, Capote starts to interview people and get a sense for how the murders have affected the townspeople. He manipulates everyone to get what he wants, and it works. He finally gets to interview the agent from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper), by dropping celebtrity names to the man’s wife.
Capote’s partner, Jack (Bruce Greenwood), is jealous of the time Truman spends with Nelle and their relationship becomes more strained when Nelle finds a publisher for her book and Jack is still struggling.
When the two killers are caught Capote and Nelle return to the town. Once again, Capote manipulates his way into talking with them, especially Perry Smith (Clifton Collins, Jr.). Capote is fond of telling people he can recall 94% of everything he hears and indeed, he absorbs conversation and every kind of information into his memory for future reference.
When Capote meets Perry for the first time, in the woman’s holding cell in the kitchen of the sheriff’s home, there is an immediate connection, at least from Capote. Over the years and appeals for their death sentence, the two men seem to become friends. Truman even gets the convicted men new lawyers for the appeals, but as time drags on without Perry telling him the real story of what happened that night, Truman loses patience. He is feeling pressure from his publisher to finish the book – which he cannot do until the men are executed. Truman lies to Perry about the title of the book, how much he has written, evhis ability to get them a new lawyer again, everything, so he can manipulate him to tell his story. Capote is not as close to the other killer, Richard Hickock (Mark Pellergino); he holds out for Perry.
Capote is a most fascinating film and Hoffman is incredible as Capote; his range as an actor is going to make history. There are three great conflicts churning in Truman throughout this whole process: he sincerely empathizes with Perry because he understands the loneliness and suffering they shared as children at the hands of their mothers (Truman later characterizes this by saying, “We were raised in the same house, only he went out the back door, and I went out the front.”), he is attracted to Perry as a man, and he is torn by his obligations as a writer to himself and his publisher. Hoffman synthesizes these conflicts in a way that has “Oscar” written all over it.
When Perry is executed, Truman is there at his request, tears of empathy, love, and guilt, flowing down his face. Truman Capote became a tortured soul, his humanity, and conscience at war with his art and ambition.
Capote is not the feel-good film of the week but it is like reading fine literature.
Truman Capote spent four years writing In Cold Blood, a true crime novel, a new genre. Just before the credits roll, we are told that Truman never completed another book. He wrote, “Answered prayers are sometimes worse than unaswered prayers.” He died of alcoholism at the age of 60.
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