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Capote: The Truman Show 

Rating: ***

If George Clooney had named his recent film Murrow instead of Good Night, And Good Luck, audiences would reasonably have assumed they'd be getting a birth-to-death biopic of the legendary newsman, not just a look at one pivotal incident from his life. So anyone heading into Capote (*** out of four) expecting an exhaustive expose on the literary lion and social raconteur might be disappointed to learn that the film focuses exclusively on the period when he researched and wrote his nonfiction masterpiece In Cold Blood.

In a way, it is an odd choice for a film: Almost everything you need to know about this incident -- and, therefore, Capote's viewpoint -- can be found in Richard Brooks' superb 1967 screen version of In Cold Blood. But the selling point in Capote is the excellent lead performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman, the character actor extraordinaire who has contributed finely etched portrayals to such films as The Talented Mr. Ripley and Magnolia. As much as Jamie Foxx channeled Ray Charles to such a degree that it was impossible to tell where the spirits of the two men separated, Hoffman likewise tackles the persona of Truman Capote and makes it his own.

Constantly punctuating the air with his whispery wit and entertaining other people as if to the (diva) manner born, Hoffman's Capote is an odd figure against the barren backdrop of the Kansas flatlands, where the writer has come to learn about the brutal murders of a respected family of four. Accompanied by his friend Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), whose To Kill a Mockingbird is soon to hit stands, Capote gets to know some of the locals, and eventually the two drifters responsible for the repugnant killings.

He forms a bond with one of them, a pensive type named Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.), with whom Capote feels he shares outsider status. But as time passes and Capote keeps needling Perry for specific details on the murders (an absolute requirement for the completion of his book), it becomes unclear -- perhaps even to Capote himself -- whether the author is merely using Perry for his own purposes or whether the doomed convict has indeed stirred Capote's own humanity. At this point, Hoffman's portrayal truly mesmerizes, as Capote's fey façade slips long enough to reveal an ordinary man both shaken and stirred by the finality of a nonfiction world.

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