You will be redirected back to your article in seconds


The creation of a milestone in both modern literature and journalism 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."

Truman Capote - Philip Seymour Hoffman Nelle Harper Lee - Catherine Keener Perry Smith - Clifton Collins Jr. Alvin Dewey - Chris Cooper Jack Dunphy - Bruce Greenwood William Shawn - Bob Balaban Mary Dewey - Amy Ryan Dick Hickock - Mark Pellegrino

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 account of the night of the murders, and then, to the haunting executions.


Production: A Sony Pictures Classics release of a United Artists, Sony Pictures Classics presentation of an A-Line Pictures, Cooper's Town Prods., Infinity Media production. Produced by Caroline Baron, William Vince, Michael Ohoven. Executive producers, Dan Futterman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kerry Rock, Danny Rosett. Directed by Bennett Miller. Screenplay, Dan Futterman, based on the book by Gerald Clarke.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Adam Kimmel; editor, Christopher Tellefsen; music, Mychael Danna; production designer, Jess Gonchor; art director, Gordon Peterson; set decorators, Maryam Decter, Scott Rossell; costume designer, Kasia Walicka-Maimone; sound (Dolby Digital), Leon Johnson; sound designer, Ron Bochar; line producer, Jacques Methe; associate producers, Kyle Mann, Dave Valleau, Emily Ziff, Kyle Irving; assistant directors, Ronaldo Nacionales, Richard O'Brien Moran; casting, Avy Kaufman. Reviewed at Sony screening room, New York, Aug. 29, 2005. (In Telluride, Toronto, New York film festivals.) Running time: 115 MIN.

With: Truman Capote - Philip Seymour Hoffman Nelle Harper Lee - Catherine Keener Perry Smith - Clifton Collins Jr. Alvin Dewey - Chris Cooper Jack Dunphy - Bruce Greenwood William Shawn - Bob Balaban Mary Dewey - Amy Ryan Dick Hickock - Mark Pellegrino

More Film

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez 'Absolutely' Wants to Direct Film and Television

    Jennifer Lopez epitomizes the phrase “she’s done it all” — but there’s still more that the superstar would like to do. Lopez recently directed her first music video, “Limitless,” the track featured on her new rom-com “Second Act,” and it seems the multi-hyphenate has caught the directing bug. “Absolutely, absolutely,” Lopez responded when asked by [...]

  • Daniel Craig

    Rian Johnson's Murder Mystery 'Knives Out,' Starring Daniel Craig, Set for Thanksgiving Release

    Lionsgate has bought distribution rights to Daniel Craig’s murder mystery “Knives Out” and set a Thanksgiving release date of Nov. 27. MRC financed “Knives Out,” directed by Rian Johnson — best known for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Lionsgate will also distribute the pic worldwide. The movie came together during the Toronto International Film Festival [...]

  • The favourite Movie

    Olivia Colman to Be Honored by Palm Springs Festival for 'The Favourite'

    “The Favourite” star Olivia Colman will receive the Desert Palm Achievement Award by the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The award will be presented by her co-star Emma Stone at the festival’s awards gala on Jan. 3 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The festival, now in its 30th year, runs from Jan. 3 to [...]

  • Oscars Oscar Academy Awards Placeholder

    Motion Pictures Academy Announces Scientific and Technical Awards

    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced nine scientific and technical achievements, represented by 27 individual recipients, to be honored at the annual Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation Feb. 9 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. In addition, Curtis Clark will be receiving the John A. Bonner Award for his service [...]

  • Once Upon a Deadpool trailer

    Box Office: 'Once Upon a Deadpool' Earns $1 Million on Wednesday

    Fox’s “Once Upon a Deadpool,” a reimagining of “Deadpool 2,” picked up an estimated $1 million from 1,566 theaters during Wednesday previews. In the PG-13 version, the Merc with a Mouth retells the heroic sequel as a bedtime story to Fred Savage a la “Princess Bride.” Because there aren’t clear comps, rival studios and industry [...]

  • Queen of Scots Hair and Makeup

    'Mary Queen of Scots' Hair, Makeup Artist Gave Substance and Style to Battling Queens

    Jenny Shircore has done the makeup and hair of several queens over the years: Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (she won an Oscar for the former) and Emily Blunt in “The Young Victoria.”  In fact, she had to be convinced to do it again for Saoirse Ronan’s Queen Mary and Margot Robbie’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content