'Capote' captures man, small town crime

Hoffman follows writer's trail

The interesting thing about "Capote" is that it's pretty frigging awesome.

The film follows Truman Capote as he writes his literary milestone "In Cold Blood," the nonfiction novel that changed the way people write, as well as how journalists approach news. In the five years Capote spent researching "In Cold Blood," a saga which chronicled the grisly murder of an entire family and the effect the crime had on a rural Kansas community, Capote became deeply connected to Perry Smith, one of the killers, as he waited on death row. Capote's experiences during those years would shape the rest of his life.

The film, however, is about much more than just Capote's life, according to its star, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

"There was something about focusing on these five and a half years that illuminates everything you need to know about Truman Capote," Hoffman said in an interview with The Eagle. "But it's not just about Capote. He had a character flaw that makes him a tragic figure and everyone can relate to that."

The flaw is hubris, and Capote shares it with many other figures pertinent to literary history. But a Hamlet he wasn't, and Hoffman is able to bring his narcissism, ambition and self-pity to life in a way that's staggeringly communicative.

During his first visit to an ailing Perry Smith (played by Clifton Collins, Jr.) on death row, Capote stops Smith's attempted suicide by starvation. In the scene, Capote takes Smith in his arms, while gently feeding him baby food and helping him take sips of water. Capote's insincerity, however, is palpable, calculated and almost uncomfortable. The author is relentlessly in pursuit of his story. It is this particular brand of cooing and doting that will earn Hoffman his Oscar.

"One of the criticisms is that [Capote] was exploiting [Smith and Hickock] for his own benefit, so that he could write this book that was going to change everything," Hoffman said. "Now you turn on the TV and the same kind of exploitation is just for consumption, not even for a higher purpose. Capote might have laid the ground work for that."

Capote's interest in the crime in Kansas, the brutal murder of an entire farming family, began with an exercise in journalism. Capote was dispatched to write an article about the trial for The New Yorker, and the relationship he developed with the people he was writing about challenged the exalted notion of objectivity in reporting.

"You can write an article or book without getting so involved with the subjects, but that book isn't going to be 'In Cold Blood,'" Hoffman said. "The book is detailed in a way that's incredibly intimate. His identification with Perry Smith probably made it impossible for him to avoid getting close."

To say that this film is well made is an understatement, and it will certainly put its rookie director boldly on the cinematic map. Hoffman's performance is enhanced by a supporting cast that deeply explores the films' characters' psyches. Catherine Keener, who plays Nelle Harper Lee, Capote's longtime friend and author of "To Kill a Mockingbird," is a particularly strong character who provides a contrast to Capote's outlandishness. But it is Hoffman's brilliant work as Capote that makes the film a true work of art.

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