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Capote

Released: Sept. 30

U.S. distrib: Sony Pictures Classics

Oscar alumnus: Chris Cooper (supporting actor, “Adaptation”)

The popularity of biopics with the Academy is unceasing — from “Disraeli” to “Cleopatra” to “The Pride of the Yankees” and up to “A Beautiful Mind,” “Ray” and “The Aviator.” Literary portraits alone have recently netted Nicole Kidman an Oscar (as Virginia Woolf) and Judi Dench and Kate Winslet nominations (both as Iris Murdoch).

But a few elements could help this studied, focused adaptation of Gerald Clarke’s 1988 Capote bio — dealing solely with the researching and writing of “In Cold Blood,” the writer’s legendary account of a Midwestern family’s slaughter and the two perpetrators brought to justice — stand out from the rest.

First are the performances, anchored by Capote as brought to life by long-respected character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who, as the New Yorker’s David Denby said, “starts with the physical and works inward to the soul.” The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern wrote that Hoffman’s work “borders on the miraculous.” With near unanimous praise, Hoffman is a front-runner for an Oscar nom.

Also doing fine work are relative newcomer Clifton Collins Jr., in a haunting turn as condemned killer Perry Smith, played in the 1967 Richard Brooks film version of “In Cold Blood” by Robert Blake, and Oscar winner Chris Cooper, bringing moral sternness to the role of a Kansas law enforcer. Previous nominee Catherine Keener (“Being John Malkovich”) plays Capote’s friend Harper Lee.

Second is a remarkably sensitive and sharp script by actor Dan Futterman, whose auspicious screenwriting debut avoids the pitfalls of biopics that cherry-pick key moments over the course of a life. Instead, Futterman focuses on the five-year period that cemented Capote’s standing as a writer but broke his spirit.

Third is the intimate direction of former commercials helmer Bennett Miller, whose only previous release is the acclaimed 1998 doc “The Cruise.” Together with d.p. Adam Kimmel, the pair turned a low-budget Canadian shoot into a vivid period piece juxtaposing the harsh pressures of the New York literati world with the windswept brutality of the Midwest.

Possible awards angle for Sony is playing up the scrappy backstory of how Hoffman, Futterman and Miller have all been close chums since 1984, when they were in a Saratoga Springs, N.Y., theater program, and worked for many years to get “Capote” made.

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