Cinema Signals by Jules Brenner:

In Cold Blood
by Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany's
by Truman Capote

To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

. "Capote"

I'm not so sure I understand what so many critics are finding so stunning and great about this movie other than, perhaps, Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance. The level of creativity that he put into channeling the famous author from New Orleans, with his wispy tonality of voice, effeminate manner, and social wit is not accompanied by a narrative content to match.

If I may make a guess, the effectiveness of Truman Capote's work ("Breakfast at Tiffany's") is being transfered to this thin and sparing observance of the man as he researched the sensational case that resulted in a literary sensation of the time, "In Cold Blood." It reveals, in part from the lips of the killers themselves, the brutal murder of a family of four in a rural house in Kansas in 1959, and what led to it. When Capote read about the tragic event, he first saw it as a story for the New Yorker magazine.

Getting a go-ahead from editor William Shawn (Bob Balaban), he takes off for Kansas with his research assistant, Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), astounding for the fact that she was to nearly eclipse her boss in the literary firmament with her novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Gaining only reluctant cooperation from the local sheriff (coldly aloof Chris Cooper,) because of fears that the writer will sensationalize the case and the community. When the killers are caught, that feeling is multiplied.

After interviewing killers Richard Hickock and Perry Smith (Mark Pellegrino and Clifton Collins Jr.) and finding Smith responsive and articulate, Capote sees the story as a book and approaches his book publisher, promising a new genre, the non-fiction novel. To ensure access to his subject, he makes a rather mercenary deal with the warden for cell visitation any day of his and the inmate's choosing. But, everything revolves around what happened in that house that night, and Smith's disclosure of those events is being held back, presumably as s trump card.

Smith interprets Capote's interest as support, friendship, and a potential savior from death, while Capote gets into the killer's mind by not disabusing him of his assumptions. For three years of appeals Smith tells everything, except the events that led to the murder. When he does finally divulge the details, and Capote can complete his book, 4 years will have passed and Capote will have shown that the cold blood of a journalist's objectivity was what was really running in his veins. He consistently lies to his subject about the progress of his work and its sensational title.

Capote is anathema to Kansan law enforcement, as clearly enunciated by the sheriff, who warns the famous writer that if his intrusion into the legal landscape results in anything less than a double hanging, he'll personally come to New York and do something unstated but serious to Capote.

Back home in the big city after publication in 1966, Capote is the toast of the literary community. The relationships Capote has with his live-in lover (Bruce Greenwood) and his researcher and traveling companion Lee are mystifying and wastefully drawn. It's as though actor and first-time screenwriter Dan Futterman neglected to apply what he would instinctively know as a fully-fleshed-out supporting role. Only the central characters, Capote and Smith, receive the attention needed. Debuting director Bennett Miller clearly couldn't manage to help and, essentially, rested their case for drama on the behavior and effete mannerisms of their lead.

Hoffman doesn't disappoint, but beyond a marvelous, mostly external characterization of a self-absorbed, creative narcisist, the actor is hardly in a position to add depth or tension to the material any more than his high-toned period wardrobe can. Collins is exceptional as a naive but smart con who almost elicits sympathy; and Cooper's cold cop is a fine insight into what his model probably was like. Keener does her best but her role is little more than house dressing. Contributing a superb elegance to the enterprise is cinematographer Adam Kimmel's exceptional period photography.

But, despite the positive elements, the result is a sagging and uneven bio pic that should have gone through a rewrite. Hoffman's performance is worthy of the buzz surrounding him but, for the real drama of the case, refer to the book. As a final credit points out, it was the last one Truman Capote ever published.

The real author, in his digs.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener
as Truman Capote and Harper Lee
On the research trail
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