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Capote Reviews

Of the many reasons to see director Bennett Miller's coolly literate account of the six years Truman Capote spent researching and writing his 1966 "nonfiction novel" In Cold Blood, Philip Seymour Hoffman's astonishingly accurate characterization is only one. Catherine Keener's beautifully shaded performance as Capote's old friend Harper Lee is another and above all, actor-turned-writer Dan Futterman's smart, subtle screenplay, which explores both Capote's determination to turn murder into literature and the deeply troubling questions he raised in the process. Brooklyn, 1959: Transfixed by a New York Times article detailing the unsolved murders of a prominent Kansas farmer, Herb Clutter, his wife and their two teenaged children, Capote immediately phones The New Yorker editor William Shawn (Bob Balaban), announces he's found the subject of his next piece for the magazine and then hops on a Kansas-bound train with friend and research assistant Nelle Harper Lee. (Then unknown, Lee soon published her own novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.) With his effeminate manner, baby voice and Fifth Avenue wardrobe, Capote raises eyebrows in small-town Holcomb, but worms his way into the good graces of lead investigator Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper), thanks largely to the influence of Dewey's starstruck wife, Marie (Amy Ryan). Capote and Lee are settling down to a cozy Christmas dinner with the Deweys when the call comes: The Clutters' killers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Dick Hickock (Mark Pellegrino), have been apprehended. Ignoring Hickock, Capote zeroes in on Smith, a sad-eyed drifter of Cherokee descent in whom Capote sees an artistic sensitivity and, more important, a great story. Capote breathlessly advises Shawn that he's on to something bigger than a mere magazine article — this will be the book he was meant to write — but getting the story means working to keep both death-row inmates alive long enough for Smith to tell it. Hiring a new lawyer and bribing the Leavenworth prison warden (Marshall Bell) to ensure unrestricted access, Capote plies Smith with books, art supplies and confidences while cold-bloodedly manipulating him into revealing everything that happened that awful night. Bennett and Futterman's brilliantly realized hatchet job, heavily indebted to Gerald Clarke's acclaimed book Capote, is the kind of devastating portrait Capote dispassionately penned about others; we're left with the chilling impression of a frightfully ambitious creature who got exactly what he wanted and was damned by his own answered prayers.