By now the events surrounding the massacre of the Clutter family in Kansas have passed into legend, into the cultural filing cabinet along with Jack the Ripper and other horrors we know entirely too much about. This event would have been long forgotten except for Truman Capote’s book and the later movie In Cold Blood. I’ve never read it, but I saw the movie, and have heard a lot of things from people who did read it. Who are unanimous in feeling it was a great achievement.
I have to keep reminding myself, “non-fiction novels” and movies are not history. Or, if they are, they are much less reliable than the footnoted and corroborated tomes we used to read for history. The movie of the book took liberties. Here we have a movie about the writing of the book … and what are we to think of that? We are shown Truman Capote’s gradual descent into moral bankruptcy. Already a practiced liar and self-promoter, by the end of the five-year ordeal he had very few principles left …
… according to the movie. Truman’s not around to speak up for himself. We see Truman waiting desperately for Perry Smith to unburden himself as to what actually happened, not so much because he cares but because it takes him to the next-to-last step toward the end of the book. We see Capote in a massive depression because the execution keeps getting stayed, which is the worst thing that could happen … to Truman. His concerns for Smith by now seem either faked or a bit late.
But what do we know? Only Capote was in that cell when Perry told his story. If he did. Sometimes some of the lines seem a bit … convenient. “I liked him … right up to when I cut his throat.” Great line for a movie. Hmmmmm….
But that aside, ignoring questions I might have about accuracy … this is a fine, fine movie. The multiple layers of ambiguity work just fine. Soon we are in a moral morass that it is impossible to easily sort out, and that’s the sign of a good movie. Philip Seymour Hoffman is so good he actually seems smaller than he really is. Bravo to the Academy. A richly deserved Best Actor win.