Though duplicity apparently comes easy to Truman Capote, he is being straightforward with Perry Smith about the title of his book. ‘In Cold Blood’ does have multiple meanings. Not only does it refer to the murders that Smith and Dick Hickock committed, it also relates to the executions the state of Kansas plans to carry out on the perpetrators. What Capote doesn’t reveal, perhaps because he is unaware of it himself, is the cold-blooded lengths he is prepared to go in service of his book.
While struggling to make a start on ‘Answered Prayers’, Truman Capote stumbles upon a newspaper clipping about the multiple murder of a farmer and his family. This, he decides, will be the basis for his next work, in which he will bring fiction-writing techniques to a non-fiction book. With long-time friend Harper Lee in tow, Capote arrives in Holbrook Kansas to document the effect the murder has on the community. Yet his other-worldly manner makes it difficult for the writer to gain acceptance, till he discovers the small town has a common currency with the cocktail-sipping literati of New York - gossip and name-dropping.
Toby Jones gives a flawless performance as Capote, confidently straddling this comedy of manners and the more sombre tone that surfaces once he visits the crime scene. Amusing ripostes may accompany his walk to the jailed murderer, but once the cell door closes Jones effortlessly switches from vaudeville to gravitas in establishing a bond with Daniel Craig’s Perry Smith. A wordless scene depicting the author’s awareness of this relationship’s consequences is exquisitely realised.
Supporting Jones is an all-star cast, including Sandra Bullock, Jeff Daniels, Sigourney Weaver, Isabella Rossellini and Peter Bogdanovich. Even Gwyneth Paltrow drops by for a song, though she doesn’t appear in the faux interviews that intersect the film. Rather than enhancing our understanding of Capote’s motivations, these sequences have a distancing effect, being of little worth beyond giving Gore Vidal the opportunity to describe Capote as sounding like a Brussel sprout.
The film ends where it began, with Capote once more attempting to write ‘Answered Prayers’. The consequences of this work are more fully explored in the one-man play Tru (1992), starring Robert Morse.
Like Truman Capote, writer/director Douglas McGrath imbues his story with an occasional touch of dramatic license. Unlike Capote, who insisted every word of ‘In Cold Blood’ was true, McGrath freely admits to his flights of fantasy.
“I really believe, without knowing for sure, that there was something intimate between them, but maybe not physically. My curiosity was to discover what happened after In Cold Blood and what made Truman go off the rails after his greatest success. The only thing that made sense was that he fell in love with Perry Smith in the most complex way. It must have tortured him enough to bring him unhinged. And that would have happened if just once they had some kind of intimate connection.”
No scene recreations in this film, though Truman often refers to his encounters with Humphrey Bogart during the making of Beat the Devil (1953).