On the 14 November, 1957 a family in rural Kansas is murdered in their home. The next day Truman Capote reads about the crime in The New York Times and goes to Kansas in search of the story. He travels with his good, and soon to be very famous friend, Harper Lee (Kenner), of To Kill a Mockingbird renown.

Photo: Sony Pictures

By January, Perry Smith (Collins) and Richard Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) are arrested and charged with the crime. Through graft and corruption, Mr Capote gains unlimited access to the prisoners. He pays their legal fees so that they can appeal against their death sentences, and he ends up hearing Perry Smith’s story. Truman begins to write his most famous work, In Cold Blood.

The timeline for the publication of the book becomes complicated when Smith and Hickock’s appeal is upheld and the State of Kansas appeals to the US Supreme Court. Smith asks Capote to pay for their defense, but he refuses. As the two men face certain execution, Truman Capote (though he doesn’t know it at the time) presides over his own personal demise. He died in 1982.

As presented in this film Truman Capote wasn’t a person with whom most of us would want to have spent much time. While charismatic in his own idiosyncratic way, he was completely self-absorbed. Close friends and even death-row inmates were vehicles for his ambition. People were used or discarded on the basis of what he could get out of them. It was always about Capote. In the long run, one of America’s most gifted writers paid a dreadful price for his professional and personal vanity.

This film is a study in the deadly sin of greed, which is not always about money. Capote was greedy for acclaim and success. The deadly sins are so seductive and glamorous on the surface, but what does it profit us to gain the whole world and lose our very soul?

Philip Seymour Hoffman deserves every accolade he is receiving for his evocation of Truman Capote. The dramatic range he achieves in this film is astonishing. Every terrified conflict and contradiction, all the manipulative, self-serving motivation and even the self-referential regrets, are on the big screen.

In Cold Blood was Capote’s most successful book, and spawned the chequebook journalism and the parasitic non-fiction novels which we have now become so used to. This film is essential viewing for anyone who ever wonders how we got to where we are. Be warned, however, Truman Capote is not easy company. There is crudity, sexual innuendo, sexual themes, violence and language which some viewers would prefer not to pay to see.

Nominated at the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Bennett Miller), Best Actor (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (Catherine Keener) and Best Adapted Screenplay, some viewers may be prepared to put up with the dark side of the film so as to reflect upon the responsibility writers owe to their subjects, and to think about the ethics involved in the compromises we can make when we are in the grip of one of the deadly sins.

Next Article Woody’s London calling