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"In Cold Blood" slows to a freeze

Megan Mowbray
Megan Mowbray
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When “In Cold Blood” was first published, the literary world stood still for a moment. Capote was immortalized by the death of a small town Kansas family. “Capote” delivers a similar experience. Time seemed to slow down during that 98 minutes, almost making it seem like 396 minutes. During the course of the movie, I did not hear the slurp of one drink, or the crinkle of one popcorn bag that so often accompanies watching a movie in the theater. Whether I was so entranced I didn’t focus on anything else, or the other members of the audience can’t consume usual movie-going fare due to dentures and a carbonation intolerance, I’m not quite sure. The point is, “Capote” takes a hold of you for 98 minutes and doesn’t let go. Every thought, every breath, every moment is portrayed to its fullest potential.

I will say that Phillip Seymour Hoffman displays an impressive on-screen presence. You begin to see into Capote’s innermost thoughts. You see his turmoil over his growing love for a cold-blooded killer, and his ever present goal of writing the novel of the decade. It drives the film, as we watch the dilemma drive Capote to drink after drink after drink.

We start in the middle of Capote’s life, as well as his writing career. He is already famous as a writer for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and famous in the social scene for his outrageous stories and sense of humor. He learns of the four murders in Kansas and asks to write an article for The New Yorker about how the town is dealing with the deaths. He rolls into town accompanied by Harper Lee, who has just finished “To Kill A Mockingbird.” The two parade around town, asking questions and convincing the locals they are good people, and can be trusted with the intimate details because they know Humphry Bogart. Both are present when the killers are apprehended and brought back into town. By this time, Capote has seen his future, in bright lights, made by the book he will write, the first of its kind, the “non-fiction” novel. He then spends the rest of the movie convincing everyone just how untrustworthy he actually is.

Soon, Capote befriends the killers with the promise of better legal representation and a plethora of appeals. Here is where Capote’s diabolical attributes kick in to overdrive. We see him lie flat out, with an even voice and barely phased, to his beloved killers. Especially to Perry Smith, played by Clifton Collins Jr., who Capote repeatedly allies himself with, all the while counting the days until his execution. Perhaps the most poignant moment in the film is when Capote tells Lee he couldn’t have done anything else to save them. She responds calmly and coolly, as usual, “maybe so, Truman. But the truth is, you didn’t want to.” Because in the end, Capote only wanted his book to work, to really work and for that, he needed the execution.

Hoffman lost 40 pounds to fit into the role of Capote, and took in stride the man’s gestures, voice intonations, and overall appearance. After a few scenes, I no longer tried to remember what other roles he had played in previous movies; my usual habit with other actors and movies. For all intended purposes, Hoffman was Capote. As far as I know, anyway, as I was 2 when the man died of alcohol complications. A true American hero. He wrote the book that made the world stand still for a bit, and then tried to drink away his success.

“Capote” is powerful in a slow-to-the-point kind of way. The story behind “In Cold Blood” is enough to carry even a bad acting performance, much less Hoffman’s solid appearance. But for a story so full of violence and energy, the movie lacks the specific turning point of Capote’s downward spiral. With such an internal exploration of Capote’s mind elsewhere, the tears he sheds before and during the execution are still a surprise. Where was the remorse when he lied about the title of the book?

Overall, this film is stellar in the acting department by all, but too slow and drawn out to convey the true power and effect of the times on Capote, Kansas, and everyone else.


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