Dying to get the story takes on a much darker meaning in Bennett Miller’s captivating portrait of Truman Capote (faithfully and passionately rendered by Philip Seymour Hoffman, with only a tad too much swish and perpetually lifted cocktail pinkie to overstate one of our most famous and most certainly infamous Queens of the Night) at his best and worst.
Gerald Clarke’s book has been morphed into a well-paced screenplay that balances the gruesome slaughter of four innocent people on the rumour of $10,000 cash hidden away somewhere in the floorboards of their rural Kansas home in 1959. Capote and researcher/fellow-confessor Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener brings copious amounts of understatement and a visual feast of emotion to her portrayal of the Pulitzer Prize Winner—cross-references below—unforgettable is her visual reaction to the constant critic’s silence following the New York première of the film version of her own masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, opting instead to wallow in himself and order “another” on his relentless life-long suicide by the bottle.
Herein is the essence of the tale: Capote befriends the two killers; over time and many proffered niceties—from aspirin for chronic leg pain to finding a lawyer who will do more than go through the motions at the various appeals of their conviction/death sentence—the fabled writer (just ask him, he’ll tell you) zeros in on Perry Smith (played by Clifton Collins Jr. who responds to the challenging role by giving the best performance of an extremely competent cast). Pathetically, Capote must pray for every successive appeal to keep his reluctant eye-witness/I-did-it source alive until he’s gained enough of his confidence to hear the grisly details and then complete his ground-breaking book even as his subjects swing from the gallows.
Is Capote the Grand Dame of literature with the wit of Oscar Wilde and searing intensity of James Baldwin (the tale about “Jimmy” worried about writing a book where a black and a Jew have unbridled sex, and they’re both men!, is hilarious on the surface) or a shameless publicity hound who personifies the me/I type and will lie his way into the truth at any cost?
As the world already knows, In Cold Blood is as brilliantly told as its content is deeply disturbing. From that point of view, Miller’s cinematic essay is a worthy mirror to the troubled lives of both the brilliant author and his ruthless confidantes. The mercifully brief moments for the killer’s narrative immediately erase whatever sympathy may have been building on both sides of the screen. JWR