There are truly typical Oscar conventions, usually deeply convincing biopics. Then again if the murders had had a guitar “Capote” could have done better for itself.
Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) travels in the beginning to Kansas with childhood friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) to write an article about how a town was affected by the murder of the Clutter family. When Truman meets the two self-confessed murderers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr) and Dick Hancock (Mark Pellegrino), he realizes that there is more in this than previously anticipated. In Cold Blood is born but cannot be completed until an definitive ending for Perry and Dick is seen through.
With a story that is very well told, gently ebbing out details without needing to ask for them, except perhaps the one question on which the protagonist waits himself, the pieces structure is largely a coup.
A negative point however being the sly foreshadowing of Harper Lee and her limited portrayal, a fact that can’t be levelled entirely at Keener who is a highly proficient actress but a script that has little idea in how much or little to encorporate her. Capote himself is deftly supplied by Hoffman, inject a nuance into the often portrayed caricature. Here is a man so full of social airs and graces but capable of adeptly manipulating everyone around him. This is Capote’s movie and despite the beautiful portrayal of him, personally it overall illustrates a man who is irredeemable. Thus with so little focus on secondary characters the movie falls because of its singularity of focus.
The comparison between Capote and the two murderers is both glaringly obvious in it’s simplicity but a coup in terms of success; here are supposed monsters with no moral fortitude expressing regret and an understanding of their ultimate drawn in and used by such an unassuming but ultimately calculating figure – a man so wretched and deplorable, so utterly self-absorbed that his ultimate concern will always be himself and yet compelling in his charm.
Another minor issue is the ending, which seems more akin to a consession than originally planned. That is not to dismiss the acting or writing, merely that it is more epilogue in presntation than it should be. Largely this fault lies with the truth itself, a man so obsessed with his own work that he does not fully realize that getting what you want is often worse than the opposite until it is too late.
Ultimately the fault is with Capote himself and although it is an unforgiving portrayal, the way in which it is added to the end product along with the inevitable characterization cancels out the bravery on the part of the writer. The piece itself is not entirely consumed by such failures, but it halts it from entering the upper strata of its contemporaries.