Capote (2005)

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr, Mark Pellegrino, Chris Cooper

Directed by: Bennett Miller

Rating: 1 2 3 4

'No one here gets out alive.'

Johnny Thunders, In Cold Blood
Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote

Waterstones in Edinburgh have sold out of copies of Truman Capote's true crime novel In Cold Blood. On Amazon, there's a six week waiting list. And small wonder, as anyone who's seen Capote simply has to read the book.

Capote is no traditional three stages of Elvis biopic - there are no childhood traumas, no sex and drugs (although admittedly copious amounts of gin and tonic are consumed) and no endlessly evolving hairdos to mark the passage of time. Instead, the film focuses on just four years of the infamous author's life, during which he researched and wrote his groundbreaking book, In Cold Blood.

The film, like the book, begins with a murder. Four murders, in fact: harsh, bloody murders, which take place in a backwater town in Kansas where nothing bad has ever happened before. Pouncing on the story, Truman Capote, an effete, drawling New York writer still riding the success of his novel and screenplay for Breakfast At Tiffany's, decides to investigate further, with the aim of producing an article on the effect the killings have had on the small rural community. His celebrity profile and superficial charm soon enable him to inveigle his way into the home of the detective in charge of the case (played with effective, old fashioned restraint by Chris Cooper). When the killers are finally caught, it's only a matter of time before he's interviewing them in their cells and the article has become a book.

Clifton Collins Jr and Mark Pellegrino kill 'in cold blood' in Capote

Yet if anyone's acting in cold blood here, it's Capote himself. The book can't be finished until the killers have told their tale, which means the writer must keep them alive until they do. A false friend to the end, he manipulates them into telling their stories with promises of redemption, all the time planning to betray them in print for his own glorification. Once done with them, he wants nothing more but to see them swing, to get them out of his life. Any empathy he feels for the two men - and in particular the lost and lonely part-Cherokee Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr), whose fractured upbringing echoes Capote's own - becomes lost in his myopic self-absorption.

So certain is this narcissistic little man that the whole world revolves around him, that two lives wasted counting time on death row, for him serve no purpose other than to act as an inconvenience, preventing the closure of his magnum opus. Wallowing in misery and whisky, he takes to his bed, complaining that the continued existence of the two increasingly desperate men has become a torture to him.

Catherine Keener as Harper Lee and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote

Ironically, the long suffering friend he complains to is none other than Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), author of To Kill A Mockingbird, a novel which epitomises the virtues of honesty, integrity and selflessness - virtues which our hero conspicuously lacks. (Unsurprisingly, Capote, preening in the limelight at the premiere of the film of Mockingbird, 'doesn't see what all the fuss is about'.) Throughout the film, Harper Lee's calm, measured presence provides an effective and vital foil to Capote's self-dramatising theatricality, a benchmark of normality, of reason, which pulls us up sharply should we begin to sympathise too deeply with Capote's self-imposed plight.

Part thriller, part biopic, part devastating psychological portrait, Capote comes across like Silence of the Lambs meets The Aviator meets A History of Violence. In fact, getting into the mind of Truman Capote is not unlike to getting into the mind of Hannibal Lecter (whose sinister sibilant tones, incidentally, were originally inspired by Capote) - it's brilliant, fascinating and compelling, but boy is it a scary place to be.

Philip Seymour Hoffman's incredible turn as Capote is truly awesome, well worthy of the Oscar he took home this weeky. The monochrome, drab world of the late 1950s and early '60s is also beautifully realised - this is no Technicolor John Water's musical, after all, this is a grown up film for a grown up audience, an intelligent, difficult, thought provoking film, where silence speaks as eloquently as words. Almost documentary-like in its precision and restraint, Capote is as fascinating and irresistible yet cold and repelling as its central protagonist.

In Cold Blood made Truman Capote the most famous writer in America - exactly as he planned. It also destroyed him. As the author himself remarked: 'More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.' Me, I'm just praying Waterstones restock.

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