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Movies | New film tells the story of how Truman Capote wrote his book, In Cold Blood

Issue: "Samuel Alito," Nov. 12, 2005

In 1966, Truman Capote published In Cold Blood, an account of two drifters who murdered a family of four in rural Kansas. In doing so, he invented the "nonfiction novel," telling a true story using the artistry and techniques of fiction writing. This new approach took off, and to this day still dominates magazine features and bestseller lists.

Capote (rated R for brief language and violence)-generating Oscar buzz for its strong performances-tells the story of how Capote wrote his book. The New York socialite (Philip Seymour Hoffman)-with his high lisping voice and effeminate mannerisms-goes to Kansas, accompanied by Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), author of To Kill a Mockingbird, whom he describes as his personal assistant and bodyguard. (She later becomes his conscience.) After some culture shock on both sides, he and the bereaved townspeople connect with each other. But when authorities capture the killers, he connects with them, too, particularly Perry Smith, a brutal murderer with a sensitive side.

Capote empathizes with the prisoner-possibly falls in love with him-and hires him a good lawyer. The two end up using each other: Smith trying to escape execution, Capote trying to get good material. The appeals go on for years. But Capote can't finish his book without an ending, and his publisher is pressuring him.

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With the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Capote ends the legal fees, clearing the way for Smith's execution. The guilt-ridden author attends the hanging and completes his successful book, but never finishes another. He is reduced to a fluttering celebrity on late-night TV and dies of alcoholism in 1984. The movie shows that art, like murder, can be committed in cold blood.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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