The story behind In Cold Blood
Capote doesn't take the easy route a biopic might take, by telling his life story, but instead tells a story in which he's a character. The basic plot involves the work Capote put into writing his signature non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood, which is credited as being a pioneer in the field of true-crime novels and investigative reporting. Having read about the murder of a farmer's family in Kansas, Capote set up an assignment for The New Yorker, and with his pal, To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), at his side, headed to the heartland to see how the murders affect a small town.
Once there, and having charmed the Kansas folk despite sticking out like a sore city-slicker thumb, Capote becomes fascinated by one of the accused killers, an artistic, sensitive soul named Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) As Capote gets deeper into his research for the book, he finds himself increasingly involved with Smith, even going so far as to get him a new lawyer for an appeal. Why exactly he does what he does is one of the questions that drives the movie forward and makes Capote such a compelling film, despite a plot that's relatively predictable and somewhat uneventful.
Watching Philip Seymour Hoffman portray the man is nothing short of astounding. Considering the way he dressed, the way he acted, not to mention the way he spoke, Capote could have easily become a cartoon character; a lisping homosexual mincing his way through life. Instead, Hoffman made his Capote a complicated complete person, who lived a life in which telling a good story was worth more than anything in his life. There are several moments in the movie in which Hoffman says nothing, yet conveys more about his character than six pages of dialogue could.
Though at the beginning the film feels like it's going to be The Hardy Boys with Truman and Harper, Keener's part wasn't quite as meaty as it could have been. Despite that, she does a good job as the conscience of the film. Her role as the author of an acclaimed novel is quietly understood, but never over-explained, and as a result, her position as Capote's friend doesn't get overshadowed. It was a smart and important choice on the part of the filmmakers, as her presence allows the conflicts in Capote's life to be explored more fully.
First-time screenwriter Dan Futterman (the son in The Birdcage) did a fine job of exploring a single aspect of Capote, and living by the writer's maxim: "show, don't tell." There's no scene where the plot is laid out for a 2-year-old's comprehension. The story unfolds slowly and with grace, until it succumbs to its own momentum and powers to a fitting and satisfying ending.
Credit for such a natural progression has to go in large part to director Bennett Miller, heretofore known only for his quality documentary The Cruise. Here he shows amazing control of the camera and his cast. Often, a director is only recognized if his style is hyperactive, while a more restrained effort is overlooked. Here, Miller's conservation of camera movement and austere visuals pay off in a cinematic Kansas that's alive and real, giving his actors a helping hand in portraying these real people. By mixing beautiful still landscapes with rigid, cold set-ups, Miller's shown himself to be a true artist and created a beautiful film that's equal parts style and substance.
The score for Capote, with its wonderful use of strings and piano, comes through with proper force in the Dolby Digital 5.1 track, flowing forth from the center speaker and spilling into the surrounds when necessary. While the dialogue is crystal clean, atmospheric noises find an affecting home in the rear and side speakers, a few key important sound effects are shocking in their clarity.
Miller returns for the second commentary, this time joined by cinematographer Adam Kimmel. Futterman was scheduled to be a part of this track, but wasn't unable to make it, so the commentary tends to focus on the visuals and how they were achieved. Since it is a low-budget film, there's plenty of info about how they made things happen, and there's a bit more energy this time, as the former housemates joke around a bit. For technical info and a visual point of view, this track is a good choice.
A trio of featurettes, which can be played separately, or all together, give plenty of back story for both Capote the man and Capote the film. "Truman Capote: Answered Prayers" (6:43) focuses on the writer, talking about his life, achievements and struggles, utilizing interviews with Hoffman, Miller, Kimmel and Capote biographer Gerald Clarke, and footage and pictures of the man himself. For the uninitiated, it's an appreciated primer.
The other two featurettes are the first and second parts of a 35-minute behind-the-scenes look at the film. "Making Capote: Concept to Script" (17:13) takes the viewer into the pre-production effort, through on-set photos and interviews with many of the film's creative forces, while "Making Capote: Defining a Style" (18:25) covers the techniques and efforts that gave the film its unique look and feel. Together they do the rare trick of actually giving proper respect to the art of film, instead of the glamour and spectacle. If anything, this DVD is devoid of fluff.
The disc wraps up with a boatload of previews, including Friends with Money, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, The Memory of a Killer, Thumbsucker, Junebug, Saraband, The Passenger, Breakfast on Pluto, The White Countess, Cache, Where the Truth Lies, The Patriot: Extended Cut and The Dying Gaul. Of course, since this is Sony, there's not trailer for the film that's actually on the disc.
The Bottom Line
The DVD does not drop the ball, delivering a beautiful-looking transfer, with excellent sound, and some very appropriate and informative bonus features. Like the movie, the disc doesn't try to overdo it, and as a result, it succeeds.