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With: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Clifton Collins Jr., Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper, Bob Balaban, Bruce Greenwood, Amy Ryan
Written by: Dan Futterman, based on the book by Gerald Clarke
Directed by: Bennett Miller
MPAA Rating: R for some violent images and brief strong language
Running Time: 98
Date: 09/02/2005

Capote (2005)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Cold Blooded

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Like many other recent biopics, Capote features a bravura centerpiece performance, this time by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Already among our greatest living film actors, Hoffman turns in a tour-de-force of body language, layers of emotional shielding and the squeaky voice belonging to one of the 20th century's most celebrated writers. Hoffman rightfully deserves a slot in this year's Oscar line-up.

Beyond that, Capote improves upon most biopics, which are forced to cram a person's life into two hours and tend to neglect the most insignificant and telling details. Instead, director Bennett Miller (The Cruise) singles out the most important and life-changing event in Truman Capote's life and tells it with a furious focus.

In 1959, Capote had already published The Grass Harp and Breakfast at Tiffany's and had written his notorious screenplay for the Humphrey Bogart cult classic Beat the Devil (1954). An intriguing article in the New York Times brings Capote to Holcomb, Kansas, where he begins work for The New Yorker magazine uncovering the story behind a brutal quadruple murder. Eventually the story develops into a book -- a new kind of non-fiction book that changed the face of publishing.

But In Cold Blood turns out to be no cakewalk. Indeed, Capote never truly recovered from this experience, and we can see his emotional deterioration. The film centers on Capote's relationship with one of the killers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.), that borders on a romance. The two write pained, poetic letters back and forth, Perry dipping into his thesaurus, attempting to reach Capote's perfect prose.

As the ordeal drags on, after years of numerous trials and appeals, Capote grows conflicted. Should he at long last finish his book or should he wield his influence to try and save his subjects' lives?

Capote introduces us to many of Truman Capote's friends and acquaintances, notably Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird. We see him switched on as he drinks and entertains adoring friends at sophisticated parties. But as the author swirls toward his fate, these faces begin to evaporate from the tale. Hoffman often occupies the frame alone, quietly, and this is when the film is at its best, snatching moments of naked truth.

The real Capote died years later, in 1984, but Capote leaves him at the end of In Cold Blood, emotionally shattered, his eyes open to a new kind of writing experience that requires far more than just ink.

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