You will be captivated
WHEN I read it, I loved it. In Cold Blood was one of the best books that I had the pleasure of studying on my degree course and, now, the fascinating tale of the Clutter family, their murderers and the author has been adapted for the silver screen.
Capote is the first of two major biopics of the famed author (the second Have You Heard? is due next year) and has to be one of the most eerie, morbidly absorbing and psychologically compelling movies ever made about a writer.
In the late 1950s, Capote (P. Hoffman) was the toast of New York’s literary set, with his colourful persona, outrageously fearless wit and striking talent. Having tasted success with his first novel Other Voices, Other Rooms followed by Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Capote became more and more preoccupied with journalism, searching through newspapers for stories to adapt.
The film deals with the writing of Capote’s masterpiece In Cold Blood, beginning in November 1959 when he reads in the New York Times about the brutal murder of the upstanding Clutter family in Kansas. Unaccountably drawn to the story, he journeys to Holcomb, the scene of the crime, fuelled by an obsession that will ultimately consume his life. His childhood pal, Harper Lee (Keener), who he playfully refers to as his research assistant and personal bodyguard, accompanies him. Lee becomes his liaison with the suspicious natives and encourages Capote to tone down his garish impulses.
His intention is to write a story for The New Yorker, but when a few months’ later two drifters are arrested for the Clutter killings, he’s drawn deeper into the Kansas milieu and it occurs to Capote that this is more than a magazine article. He believes that it could become an important book, a new kind of fact-based literature, the non-fiction novel that would change journalism forever.
He gains the confidence of the two killers – Perry Smith (Collins Jr) and Richard Hickock (Pellegrino) – and dives into his research, visiting them in their cells as their case wends its way through the courts. Capote needs these men to trust him so that they will reveal every detail of their part in the crime.
Capote befriends Smith, with whom he feels a curious bond. Smith, the classic lower-class loser who pulled the trigger on the family, is sensitive, moody, creative and altogether misunderstood, a fair assessment of Capote himself. As the case drags on, the writer becomes desperate, he can’t finish his book or enjoy the subsequent fame destined to be his, until Smith and Hickock hang.
As the years go by, frustrating stays of execution for the killers mount, Capote sinks into alcoholism and is eaten up with jealousy when Lee slips out of his shadow to publish To Kill A Mockingbird.
The film chronicles the process that resulted in the world’s first ever non-fiction novel In Cold Blood. Futterman’s script astutely captures this pivotal span of years (1959-1965) during which Capote changed the publishing world forever and created an enduring American classic.
Philip Seymour Hoffman keeps us riveted to the screen with his fascinating portrayal of an eccentric, ludicrous, mid-century American. The film is a detailed and painfully complex account of Capote’s obsession with a crime that changed his life and American literature forever. Hoffman flawlessly captures the essence of Capote, giving the character a distinguished yet manipulative and at times vicious interpretation, showing us the raging egotist Capote was. His obsession with Perry, who was executed before his eyes, thrust him into such a depression that he was never able to complete another book. It also caused Capote’s own premature death in 1984 from an addiction to drugs and alcohol. In Cold Blood was and remains a brilliant accomplishment. But the experience both made him and broke him.
by LOUISE PIMM