Truman Capote knows it is best to hide the title of his upcoming book from murderer Perry Smith. But does 'In Cold Blood' relate to the murder of the Clutter family or the State sanctioned killing of the culprits? Or is the unintentional meaning, seen with the benefit of time, the callous way Capote befriended then abandoned the murderers so he could have an ending for his story?
Capote begins quietly. Wheat gently sways in the Kansas wind. A car engine purrs as it waits. A girl’s subdued knocks fail to stir the inhabitants of an old farm house. Even when she discovers why her knocks went unanswered, the scream that escapes from her is muffled. Only the sound of a rowdy cocktail party being held thousands of miles away shatters the silence. Truman Capote is holding court, regaling guests with his latest anecdote. The following morning, he notices a small story in the newspaper about the Clutter family murders.
Despite the author’s renowned flamboyance, Hoffman gives a wonderfully understated performance, silently observing while surreptitiously gathering material for his book. His travelling companion, Harper Lee, achieves just as much with a quiet word while contemptuously dismissing Capote’s manoeuvres. Equally dubious is detective Alvin Dewey, a man of few words who nevertheless gets his message across.
It is an effective use of quietness that director Bennett Miller dispenses throughout the film. Reminders of the Clutter family, family photos and markings of the children’s height, are displayed without explanation. Killers file into the courthouse while stunned townsfolk stare in silence. A condemned man’s final words go unheard by all but his executioners. The downside of such repeated periods of stillness is that the film itself can feel unnecessarily slow, a fact not helped by the occasionally use of slow-mo.
For the most part though, this extra time allows us to savour the subtleties of a brilliant performance and a story well told.
Capote only visited Smith in prison about half a dozen times, though they did write letters to each other on a weekly basis.
Capote did not view the bodies of the murdered Clutter family.
Capote did not attempt to find a lawyer for Smith and Hickock.
Capote did not witness the execution of Perry Smith.
No scene recreations in this film, though Truman fleetingly refers to the making of Beat the Devil (1953).