In Cold Blood
‘Capote’ avoids the standard pitfalls of the Hollywood biopic by concentrating on a particular aspect of the famous writer’s life rather than trying to turn his whole life into a story. Moreover, it is unconventional in that it deals with its protagonist’s hypocasy and egomania as much as his celebrated brilliance as a writer. ‘Ray’ this is not. The film opens with the discovery of a quadruple homocide in small-town Kansas, and Truman Capote – the darling of the literary set – is revelling in the success of the popular film adaption of his novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Shown surrounded by fawning sycophants, the camp and eccentric Capote is drawn to the Kansas murder story by a desire to invent a new kind of book – the non-fiction novel. Accompanied by his assistant Harper Lee (who would soon garner her own success with the classic To Kill a Mockingbird), he goes on a journalistic investigation of the murder, later befriending the detective on the case. At first he struggles to win the trust of the Kansas locals – his flamboyant, fey manner an obstacle to winning their confidence. But he soon gains access to the killers themselves, two drifters who are arrested in Las Vegas and put on death row. Befriending the intelligent but deeply troubled Perry Smith, he starts buidling a sympathetic portrait of the accused that would form, controversially, the premise to one of the great works of non-fiction, ‘In Cold Blood’.
However, Capote becomes torn between his blossoming and ambiguous relationship with Perry – a half-cherokee outsider with chronic leg pains – and finishing the book. Capote leads Perry to believe that the book is not only going to tell his side of the story but that he is helping him win an appeal against his death sentance. But does Capote want Perry to survive? Capote has a breakdown as the killers’ execution is postponed and starts to ruthlessly block Perry’s attempts to contact him from jail. Without Perry’s execution Captote has no ending for his book, and its publication is delayed for five years. When it is finally published, after the execution, ‘In Cold Blood’ becomes a major critical and commercial success, but at what cost? As we are told, Capote dies of alcahol-related illness and never completes another book. Was he riddled by guilt for the way he exploited Perry?
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance is genuinely fantastic – able to communicate both Capote’s literary sensibility, his charisma, and his treachery. After you get used to the nuances of Capote’s eccentricities, Hoffman’s performance seems less of an impressive impersonation but naturalistic in its detail. The disappointment for me is in the casting of Perry Smith and Richard Hickock – in particular the former – who seems incapable of murdering four people and pales in comparison to the grittily evocative descriptions in Capote’s book. Visually, it’s a chilly film of gloomy greens and steely blues that contrast starkly against Hoffman’s florid Capote. This perhaps adds to the feeling that the film relies to heavily on this central performance – for it is this that persists in the mind afterwards – leaving the viewer feeling a little cold. Neverthess, well worth viewing!