Truman Capote was brilliant, disturbed man. An intellectual with constantly wounded ego, he loved the sound of his voice almost as much as he loved when people turned to see or hear him. His ongoing self-hatred and self-admiration is at the core of this movie, and at the core of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance. He embodies the man who was famous for being famous. He thinks like Capote, and sounds like Capote. He also steals every scene he’s in, which makes it so difficult to review the movie. I do remember the plot, and I have noticed the other characters, the visuals, and haunting score, but it’s the Truman Capote whom I took home and kept seeing again and again. He stole the film, just like he would steal every camera, every pair of eyes and ears in any company or situation. He craved it, and he was a worthy, interesting attraction.
The film follows the story of Capote’s most famous novel – ‘In Cold Blood’. How it was written, how at first he was sent to do an article on a gruesome murder of a family in Kansas. He arrives, fresh from smoky, alcohol-fumed New York lounges into milky white skies of Kansas, into one-street towns, and finds there a novel. This trip is not just for one article, not a weekend assignment. There’s a great novel here, he just has to unearth it. He stays for a while, and settles in, getting to know the local sheriff, and eventually the killers. He uses connections and silver tongue to get more information than allowed, to spend more time with the witnesses than allowed. To befriend one of the killers… To delay the trial and execution. He bends rules to get to the story – how was this family killed? Why in such a brutal way? Over what?
Capote is accompanied by Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), who patiently looks the other way every time Truman throws a fit, or meddles in the law. She’s the voice of reason, albeit he hardly acknowledges her ability to prevent a disaster. She knows Truman is onto something great, but can’t help wondering what it would cost to get to the bottom of the story. Who would read a novel that’s so dark and haunting? And finally, what if the constant delays and appeals will result in mistrial and the suspects will simply go free? Why befriend and be so close to these two people who are so different, and so dangerous?
There are also phenomenal (underplayed) performances from Bruce Greenwood as Truman’s patient lover, and Bob Balaban, as his nervous but curious editor. All are trying to serve as anchors to reality, while Truman is slowly sliding into the universe of cold crime. And then there are the criminals – Richard Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) and Perry Smith (played by Clifton Collins Jr). Perry is smart enough to see that he can manipulate the curious writer to delay the inevitable trial, to get perks, to contact his family. But not smart enough to accomplish it successfully. There’s a short and powerful exchange between them at the end of the movie that finally establishes who’s the manipulator – and why Capote has allowed Perry to survive that long. Just like anything else, Capote’s point is clear and brief, and his eyes at this moment show all the raw ambition and drive of a man who doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He may be portly and a slow-talker, but his instincts are fast and dead-on.
The movie does show an amazing cast and creates uncomfortable constant between the lifestyles of countryside and city. And you can’t help but everything else into the background and watch Philip Seymour Hoffman become Truman Capote and embody him in actions and tone. All you can do is feel and carry that weight alongside Truman, Harper and Perry. A great film, and terrific performances from everybody.