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        Philip Seymour Hoffman, best known for character parts in Indie films, first exploded into my consciousness in a Hollywood blockbuster, Twister. In that film, he made an indelible impression as Dusty the perennial grad student who is high on life and tornadoes. Hoffman is a classic character actor and he has carved out memorable supporting roles in many films including The Talented Mr. Ripley, Almost Famous, Cold Mountain and Boogie Nights. His only real star turn was in a small film, Owning Mahowny, where he played, of all things, a bank manager in Toronto who embezzles money to feed his gambling addiction. In Capote, Hoffman finally has a starring role where he really shines which may get him an Oscar for Best Actor. I am talking about Truman Capote.

        Capote follows 6 years in the life of Truman Capote (Hoffman) beginning in 1959, when he reads in the New York Times about the grisly murder of a family in a small town, Holcomb, Kansas.  Capote is obsessed by the story and decides to go to Kansas and research a book about it, which he calls a new kind of story, the non-fiction novel. The result of this research was, of course, the famous book, In Cold Blood. Just the idea of Capote going to Holcomb, Kansas is incongruous. I think that even Capote felt this, so he took his best friend with him to be an interface with the good people of Kansas. His friend is so much of a coincidence that it sounds like something that was made up for the movie but it wasn't. Capote's best friend as a child and the girl next door was Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird. They grew up in Monroeville, Alabama, population 6800. Anyway, Capote and Lee (Catherine Keener) set off for Kansas. Left behind in New York are Capote's editor, William Shawn (Bob Balaban) and his boyfriend, the novelist, Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood). Capote and Lee interview everyone involved in the killings including the Sheriff (Chris Cooper) and, when they are eventually caught in Las Vegas, the murderers, Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Richard Hickock (Mark Pellegrino). As I said, Capote was obsessed with this story and he worked on the book for 6 years. It came out shortly after Smith and Hickock were hanged.

        In Cold Blood was made into a movie in 1967 starring Robert Blake as Perry Smith. Ironically, Blake was recently tried and acquitted for the murder of his own wife. The 1967 movie was actually filmed in Holcomb, Kansas, even in the actual house where the murders occurred. The new film, Capote, was filmed in Manitoba, which looks a lot like Kansas. Capote has a bit of the feel of Good Night and Good Luck. It feels like it is in black and white but it isn't. And everyone on screen is smoking again. This is not an action movie although there are some fairly grisly scenes showing the murders. Capote is a character study. And to say that Hoffman becomes Capote, doesn't begin to describe his amazing transformation. Hoffman even appears to have shrunk to fit the role of the 5' 4" Capote. In the film, he is clearly much shorter than Keener who plays Lee even though in real life they are the same height (5' 9"). Hoffman's portrayal of Capote is nothing short of amazing. He is in every scene in the movie. Catherine Keener is always great (Being John Malkovich, Your Friends & Neighbors, The 40 Year Old Virgin) but maybe someone will notice this time and give her an Oscar nomination. Keener as Lee is the anti-Capote, as sincere and straightforward as he is not. The supporting cast is very strong. Chris Cooper is never bad but he could do his part as the small town sheriff in Capote in his sleep. The real standout besides Hoffman and Keener is Clifton Collins Jr. who plays Perry Smith, the intelligent, well-read, cold-blooded killer. Capote is drawn to, but also repelled by Smith, who waits until the very last moment to tell Capote about the night of the murders.

        Capote is not a very nice person and this film does not try and make him nice. Capote, the film, is presented very simply and starkly. Like I said, this is a character study of Truman Capote and in the film, we can just sit back and see the world through his eyes. It works very well. Why this works so well, besides Hoffman's great acting, isn't clear since the screenwriter (Dan Futterman) is a journeyman actor who doesn't write, and the director, Bennett Miller's only claim to fame is that he went to high school with Futterman. Go figure. Both Miller and Futterman are old friends of Hoffman's. But male-bonding or whatever, it works. Capote is one of the best films of the year. It will loom large at Oscar time. Go see it.