November, 1959. Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) sits in his apartment reading through the New York Times and spots a short item about the murder of a family on a farm in Kansas. Something about the article speaks to Capote, he can write about this and turn it into a great article for the New Yorker. He enlists the aid of his friend, and fellow writer, Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), as his research assistant for the trip. Upon their arrival in Kansas, they meet with Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper), the lead investigator in the case, haunted by images of the crime scene and determined to find the killers. Dewey's wife invites Capote and Lee to dinner, thrilled to have a celebrity in the house, beginning a friendship with the Dewey's which leads to them sharing Christmas dinner. The meal is interrupted by a call from Las Vegas. The suspects have been captured. Capote remains in the small town, hoping for the opportunity to interview Perry Smith (Clifton Collins, Jr.) and Richard Hickock (Mark Pellegrino). When Capote meets Smith, he realizes that he has enough for a book. But he needs an ending. How and when will the book end?
"Capote", directed by Bennett Miller, written by Dan Futterman and produced by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, among others, is a great film. But I already said that, didn't I? See what I mean? It's difficult to do justice to a film like this.
The most amazing thing about the film is Hoffman's portrayal of Capote. Before this film, my limited exposure to Capote has been his cameo in "Murder by Death" or various magazine pictures of him at parties throughout the Eighties. None of this gives you an idea of his life or his ability. The film, and Hoffman, quickly establish Capote's character. Enjoying success as a writer, and celebrity, he holds court during a party, recounting the story of another author telling him about his new book. This scene quickly establishes Capote's ego and his love of attention. After he finds the short newspaper article, we begin to see and sense many other layers to his character. He wants to be a great writer; as portrayed by Hoffman, we see that he valued celebrity as much as his skill. He wants to be in a loving relationship; his partner, author Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood) is working on a new novel and wants Capote to spend the holidays at home. Capote realizes that the research will take much longer and tries to assuage his lover about his absence. But the truly great thing about this performance is the relationship between Capote and Smith. Hoffman skillfully leads us to believe that Capote was attracted to Smith, helping him find lawyers, meeting with him for long periods of time. Was it all for the sake of a book, which Capote believed would be great? Or did he actually care about Smith? Or the Clutter family?
As you watch Hoffman's performance you realize that there are many subtle contradictions in Capote's character. Hoffman brings these to life, in a completely disarming way. We feel like we are watching Capote in a documentary.
Capote had a very stylized speech pattern and Hoffman captures it without stereotyping it or making light of it. It was simply how this man, who lived in many Southern communities growing up spoke.
As far as I am concerned, the Oscar race for Best Actor is over. Hoffman should get the statue now. Forget about all of the campaigning. There may be other very good performances to come, but I doubt there will be another performance as good as Hoffman's portrayal of Truman Capote.
All of the supporting performances are pitch perfect. Catherine Keener, once again, does a great job as she brings author Nelle Harper Lee to life. She and Capote had Southern roots and the desire to be great writers in common. Capote clearly liked to surround himself with talent, as friends and associates, and he recognized that Lee would be a great writer as well. During their research in Kansas, Lee learns that her book "To Kill a Mockingbird" will be published. Over the course of writing "In Cold Blood", Lee's novel is published to great acclaim and made into a film starring Gregory Peck. Capote attends the New York premiere, but he is still so wrapped up in his own book that he can't come to terms with Lee's success, putting a strain on their relationship.
Chris Cooper is outstanding as the tortured lawman. At one point, Capote helps Smith and Hickock find new lawyers. Dewey (Cooper) tells him that if he helps these two men get out of jail, he will personally come to Brooklyn and hunt Capote down.
Clifton Collins, Jr. is also mesmerizing as Perry Smith. Collins has, frankly, never done anything this good. His last film of any note was "Mindhunters", the oft-delayed Renny Harlin mess released this summer. Collins manages to subtly convey that Smith may be just as manipulative as his new friend, Capote. He realizes early on that Capote needs him and once he gives Capote what he wants his new `friend' is gone. Throughout their relationship, they play a subtle game of cat and mouse.
The beauty of the film is that it puts us in Capote's shoes. We experience all of the emotions that he experiences, see everything that he sees, and witness the events that he is present for. When he hears Smith's recount of the murders, he is visibly shaken, as are we, by the power of the words and images used.
Rightfully, the film concentrates on Capote's life during the research and writing of "In Cold Blood". After the book was released, and acknowledged as a classic, Capote never really wrote anything that would earn him the attention or acclaim that he needed. It was essentially, the book he was meant to write and it would end his creative career. The rest of his life would be a shadow.
"Capote" does that rare thing. You learn about the man, his talent, and his life.