Bennett Miller
Release Year:
Length (mins):
USA, Canada
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role 2006
Screening Date:
  • 5 Mar 2024
  • Categories:
    Biography, Crime, Drama

    Truman Capote decides to write a book (“In Cold Blood”) about the true-life case of a murder of a Kansas family in 1959. Philip Seymour Hoffman won an Oscar for his uncanny performance as Capote.

    Film Notes

    The creation of a milestone in both modern literature and journalism — which became a memorable 1967 movie — is explored to reveal yet more riveting layers in “Capote,” an unsettlingly intimate account of Truman Capote‘s obsessive research into the brutal 1959 killings of a Kansas family that yielded the groundbreaking faction work, “In Cold Blood.” The mesmerizing performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman as the celebrated writer dominates every scene, while director Bennett Miller and screenwriter Dan Futterman’s penetrating study enthralls in every aspect, making this Sony Pictures Classics release sure to figure high among the fall’s prestige specialty draws.

    Inherited by SPC from United Artists, “Capote” is the first of two indie projects on the same period in the subject’s life, each culled from major biographies — in this case, Gerald Clarke’s probing, compassionate 1988 book. Due in 2006 from Warner Independent Pictures is Doug McGrath’s “Have You Heard?”, based on George Plimpton’s 1997 assembly of recollections from those who knew Capote.

    The first narrative feature from Miller (1998 docu-portrait “The Cruise”), and the first screenplay penned by actor Futterman (best known for roles in “The Birdcage” and “Will & Grace”), the film’s most notable qualities perhaps are its quiet perceptiveness and unhurried sense of purpose, showing a sure-footedness and maturity that usually are the domain of far more experienced filmmakers. Futterman takes small liberties with the events and persons but his approach is one of measured respectfulness.

    There’s a graceful calibration and balance evident in the central positioning of Capote among opposites. Complete with an uncannily precise take on the prissy, infantile voice, and with all the author’s characteristically fey mannerisms — the batted eyelashes; the hands constantly fluttering to adjust his hair and glasses; the languid flourish with which he waves a cigarette, a martini or telephone; the perpetually raised pinkie — Hoffman’s Capote is Southern flamboyance taken to baroque extremes, yet at all times vulnerable and real.

    One of his closest associates during the period portrayed here is Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), then on the cusp of fame with “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The polar opposite of her childhood friend, she’s the epitome of another kind of Southerner: down-to-earth, plain-spoken, unpretentious.

    No less distinct from the central character is William Shawn (Bob Balaban), Capote’s sedate, gentlemanly editor at The New Yorker, who agreed to the author’s request to go to Kansas and write a story on the impact of the Clutter family killings on rural Holcomb. Likewise Capote’s straight-up, dependable longtime companion Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood), and the taciturn, masculine Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper), the Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent who led the hunt for the two ex-con drifters responsible for the murders, Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) and Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.).

    The depiction of Capote as a social alien — even when holding court at the Gotham soirees that were far more germane to him than Kansas farm country — adds poignancy to the sense of kindred, misunderstood spirits that evolves between the writer and Smith. The convicted killer transfixes Truman from his first sight of him to his much-delayed execution, fueling the writer’s creative genius but also destabilizing him emotionally. In many ways, this is a tragic story of unfulfilled love.

    “It’s as if Perry and I grew up in the same house, and he stood up and went out the back door while I went out the front,” says Capote. The film succeeds remarkably in tracing the process by which Truman gained the trust and esteem of a man he described as “remote, suspicious, sullenly sleepy-eyed” — all qualities brought to wounded life in Collins’ deeply etched performance.

    But what’s most affecting is the double edge of Capote’s literary achievement — he invented the “non-fiction novel” with “In Cold Blood,” which brought him for the first time to a mass audience — and the shattering personal cost at which it came. He never completed another book, later descending into alcoholism and obesity, burning bridges with his rich socialite pals.

    Futterman’s script addresses with honesty the unpaid debt of a writer to his subject, as well as touching eloquently on the creative process, the bonding between misunderstood outcasts, the randomness of violent crime and the inhumanity of taking a life, on either side of the law. The film also acknowledges, as Capote did, the thin divide between quiet, conservative American life and its violent underbelly.

    Hoffman never shies away from painting the subject as a vain, self-absorbed spotlight-seeker and a guileful manipulator, milking Smith and Hickock’s death row agony for personal and professional glorification. But even when impatiently awaiting an execution date to give his book an ending, when deceiving Smith or using vicious, dismissive words to hurt him, Truman never becomes an entirely unsympathetic monster; the impact on the writer of the two men’s complex association is made achingly palpable. Capote’s refusal to take notes during interviews allows for constantly locked eyes, which cranks up the intensity and intimacy of his encounters with Smith to almost painful levels in scenes shot in uneasy close-up.

    Playing a brilliant man who presented himself as a caricature and was the target of endless comic impersonations for it, Hoffman’s achievement in giving him dignity and soul is impressive indeed. While the actor’s height works against physical accuracy as the diminutive author, the depths and sensitivity of his characterization overcome any doubts.

    In addition to the arresting work of Collins, unerring support comes especially via subtle turns from Keener, Cooper and Pellegrino, while stage actress Amy Ryan has lovely moments as Dewey’s wife, whose welcome breaks down barriers for Truman with the Kansans.

    In a movie refreshing for its lack of flash, the frugal use of handheld camera in Truman’s shaken final encounter with Hickock and Smith before their hanging is emotionally effective. Elsewhere, Adam Kimmel’s controlled camera work creates a textured, grainy visual field, its retro flavor enhanced by a desaturated color palette and a painterly eye for the empty, wintry landscapes. (Canadian locations stood in for the Kansas prairies.)

    No less polished, in the same judicious, unshowy way, are composer Mychael Danna’s pensive score, the understated period look of production designer Jess Gonchor and costumer Kasia Walicka-Maimone’s work, and Christopher Tellefsen’s fluid editing, which builds suspensefully toward a full , of the night of the murders, and then, to the haunting executions.

    What you thought about Capote

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    29 (62%) 15 (32%) 3 (6%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
    Total Number of Responses: 47
    Film Score (0-5): 4.55

    Collated Response Comments

    108 members and guests attended this screening. There were 47 responses which is a response rate of 44% giving the film a rating of 4.55.

    Many thanks to James Culver for stepping in to do the introduction for the Society on my behalf.

    Your comments on the film are all collected below.

    “An aptly titled film as it is about Capote and nothing else, in which Hoffman rules with a bravura, nuanced performance of great detail and subtlety. It might equally have been titled 'In cold blood', not because of the murders but in honour of Capote's brutal, callous decision making and manipulation. By the end of the film you are staggered by the moral capitulation of Capote in the face of his muse and his lust for fame. It is an astonishing performance which delineates clearly the lines he is prepared to cross, initially, shockingly, by opening the coffins and progressively downhill from there. It is easy, by the end, to see him as a monster, a narcissistic Pharaoh of print, not holding himself to normal mores, sacrificing whatever and whoever he needs to build an edifice to his own glory but Hoffman manages to make him human and suggest the hard path that has brought this outsider to the grand stage with all his ambition and insecurities. In which he is aided by the crisp, naturalistic performances from Keener, Balaban, Greenwood, Cooper and most particularly Clifton Collins as Perry Smith, the sad eyed loser who wins us over ...right up until the brutal visualization of the murders. A remarkable achievement, the film has much contemporary relevance concerning the queasy morality of reportage and getting too close to your subject. A terrific, uncomfortable film and a towering performance”.

    “A fantastic film that I found gripping from start to finish. Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance was truly mesmerising as the narcissistic Capote”.

    “Incredible performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman in an excellent though disturbing film. I did find the sub Titles distracting and quite annoying”.

    “It had surprise. It had tension. And it had an amazing performance by Hoffman. Not quite a 5 though”.

    “The silence at the end of the screening said it all. I was totally immersed in this film. As all the awards suggested, Philip Seymour Hoffman was outstanding in his portrayal of this unlikeable and complex man. Strong supporting roles too, particularly Nelle and Perry. Not an enjoyable film with it's dramatic conclusion as we finally saw Perry's version of the murders and his hanging, but an overwhelming cinematic experience. Another great choice. Thanks”.

    “A truly great film! An outstanding performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead role, which brings nuance to a remarkably complex character. Cinematography, pacing, scripting and supporting acting are all exemplary. I've seen this film once before and it's even better second time around”.

    “It will be an unforgettable movie, especially with Hoffman's compelling performance. The fundamental theme and atmosphere from the previous showing resonated in the movie and was interesting. Again, the warm and gentle aspects subdued the seriousness of the fundamental issue, and the complicated yet 'caring' relationship between Capote and Perry was represented beautifully in the movie".

    "I had no knowledge of the original murder case, the novel, or the movie, but I'm surprised that only a little has been learned from this movie. Interestingly, coincidentally, I was reading an article about Sarah Everard's murder case in the morning. I wanted to know how the monster was produced because unless we learn the root cause, the problem will never be solved, and similar tragedies will repeat.

    It is a cliché, but as in the movie, the seeds of monsters are planted when the basic human right to be loved and cared for is taken away from a child. We all have an equal right to be loved and respected. Therefore, it is vital that society creates a kind environment where parents can focus on raising children with respect in a safe and unstressful atmosphere filled with love, joy, and happiness rather than constant fear and stress. (The warfare is out of the question.)

    I felt it essential that we share the view the film teaches us. When a horrific event by such monsters occurs, it is not just that individual. It is a consequence of a sequence of unkind events, actions, and thoughts not only by predators but also by their environment throughout their lives. Of course, it is still the predators' choice to commit a crime, and I'm not undermining their responsibilities. However, just like Capote said, "It's as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front". Indeed, Capote and Perry were mirrors. Not just childhood trauma but narcissism. Just like Perry exploited the lives of others, Capote was initially taking advantage of Perry. Capote loved Perry because Capote himself could have been Perry if the circumstances were different. But Perry, if given an opportunity, could also have been a great artist and poet.

    The movie shows from the compassionate author's eye how the monster could be made and that killing the monster doesn't solve the fundamental root cause of the deep-rooted human issues. The last scene was particularly shocking, but it was impactful to show that point. Strangely, I felt happy for Perry that at least one person in this entire world tried to understand him and his life. I felt happy that Perry learned to say "thank you" at the very end because this world is filled with ungrateful souls who cannot appreciate what they already have and can never be satisfied, which is one of many root causes of numerous tragic human events. Thank you”.

    “Magnificent performances enabled the film to examine the complex relationships between Capote, his friends, his public and the prisoners. Capote's conflicting reasons for initially building and then withdrawing from these various relationships reveals many of his flaws. Beautifully filmed and scripted”.

    “A harsh story beautifully told. The acting and atmosphere were perfect

    Brilliant acting, superb production.

    Good portrayal of narcissistic / demanding / needs of the creative process.

    Amazing story brilliantly told.

    Dealt with complex personality brilliantly.

    Great acting, great film.

    Deeply disquieting and disturbing film, art, guilt, exploitation and responsibility. Very intelligent film.

    One of the best films I have seen. Brilliant acting, character of Capote fascinating. Wish I could write more, ‘more tears for prayers answered’, so very, very true.

    Great acting - challenging moral issues.

    An extraordinary film. Hoffman played the Capote character so well - voice and character were spot on.

    Stunning film. Has the same impact that the film ‘In cold blood’ when I saw it. Very memorable and thought provoking. Genius.

    Fantastic acting.

    Excellent. Full of complex emotions. A truly engrossing film.

    Very powerful. Incredible performance by Seymour Hoffman.

    Complex, brilliant, powerful. PSH was outstanding.

    So powerful - so well made and the acting was extraordinary - his complex personal relationship with Perry showed how he manipulated him for the sake of his book. Totally chilling.

    Amazing acting, tension, struggle on choices.

    Wonderful acting - grim story.

    The points are for the acting. A dull film about a horrible manipulative narcissist.

    Well made film - but not a subject I want to come out for on a Tuesday evening. Didn’t find it at all emotional. Why not? I suppose we have discussed capital punishment endlessly. Not much more to say about it.

    Very good actor and actresses but very sad and poor topic to film - for two hours!

    Good but not one I would go and see.

    Well acted - interesting use of close up filming in exchange between Perry and Capote - unusual focus of effect the experience had on Capote.

    Great acting. Sad that Philip Seymour Hoffman is no longer with us.

    Brilliant acting.

    Fascinating and gripping story. Glad you had subtitles.

    Very well acted, interesting but a bit too long.

    Great performance from PSH.

    What a work ethic ! Pretty hard to watch - but very thought provoking.

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