2005-11-18 / Columnists


By Robert Snyder

The 1967 film, “In Cold Blood,” is an excellent, incisive chronicle of the murder of four members of a Kansas farm family, except it lacks one key ingredient: The exceptional, eccentric author of the landmark non-fiction novel.

“Capote” reveals that “In Cold Blood’s” writer Truman Capote was a major player in the real-life drama that culminated in the execution of two drifters, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, and the publication of a literary masterpiece. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Capote is more than an impersonation of the author’s celebrated quirky mannerisms. It’s a reproduction of Capote’s pain-saturated soul.

The pain connects him to Perry (Clifton Collins, Jr.). Both author and killer realize that they share the same suffering from childhood neglect and loneliness. Speaking to longtime friend, “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee  (Catherine Keener), Capote says, “It’s like Perry and I grew up in the same house. One day, he went out the back door and I went out the front.”

Researching the book, Capote uses his “outsider” edge to gain the confidence of Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) and Perry. The best-selling author  (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”) also uses money to bribe prison officials and hire an appeals attorney. However, his altruistic efforts almost backfire when the convicts are granted two stays of execution, delaying the much-anticipated completion of the book.  Drinking heavily, Capote tells Lee, “If they win this appeal, I may have a complete nervous breakdown.” Then, after the killers are hung, he says, “There wasn’t anything I could have done to save them.” To which, Lee responds, “Maybe, but the fact is you didn’t want to.”

“Capote” digs deep into the exploitative nature of journalism as no film has ever done before. And, it shows the devastating impact that in-depth reporting can carve into a writer’s soul. In fact, the masterwork is ultimately the author’s undoing. He never completed another novel, sinking into the alcoholism and drug addiction that led to his death.

Under Bennett Miller’s elegant direction, “Capote” is scripted by Dan Futterman from the Gerald Clarke book, which appears as well researched as “In Cold Blood” itself. But, it’s Hoffman’s work that escalates the film to a level of art which Capote himself would have been proud.

Check out “Capote” and see the best performance of the year.

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