Philip Seymour Hoffman comes out in full force with a limp wrist and designer scarves as the title character in Capote. While his performance as the celebrated author is certainly vivacious and well-delivered, this is an austere film exploring the real-life story behind Truman Capote’s bestseller, In Cold Blood.
The 1965 novel cemented Capote in the US literary firmament (perhaps second only in fame to his novella Breakfast At Tiffany’s). The book unravels the mystery of the 1959 Clutter family murders in Kansas by two ex-convicts, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock.
Capote was a self-aggrandizing dandy of the New York lit scene when he came across a small mention in the press about the murders. Capote’s account sparked controversy as he befriended the killers while interviewing them on Death Row. Bennet Miller’s film gives a behind-the-scenes look at Capote’s life during this time. We watch as the fey scenester charms the locals to get information, bribes the warden for access to the prisoners and, at one point, compassionately feeds baby food to one of the convicted men on a hunger strike.
Hoffman’s performance is excellent. He strikes a perfect balance between insightful portrait and over-the-top caricature — right down to the nasally, high-pitched voice that sounds like Droopy Dog. You’re able to look beyond all his ridiculousness and see a forceful and tender individual.
Yet did Capote have feelings for his subjects or was he just exploiting them for his own ends? There is a beautiful scene where Capote is basking in the glow of photographers as he walks up a red carpet event. This spotlight-chasing is coupled with sombre and emotional visits with Perry (Clifton Collins Jr) over the years.
When Perry and Dick’s numerous appeals end in both of them hanging, Capote says to his writer friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), “There was nothing I could have done to save them.” Lee retorts, “Maybe not. But the fact is, you didn’t want to.”
The film does a great job of showing the murky ethical waters into which Capote submerges himself. Even though the story lags at times and fails to develop the supporting characters very well, it is still engrossing. Depicting a bygone era where authors were celebrities, Capote is a handsome film that tries to dissect the real person from the persona.