IN COLD BLOOD / CAPOTE Blu-ray Reviews

     February 19, 2009

Written by Andre Dellamorte

Perry Smith and Richard Hickcock were two ex-cons who hear about a score. A farmer with a couple thousand in his personal safe. The two head out to the Clutter home, killed the entire family and their crime horrified the neighborhood. Later the two were caught, and after a lengthy appeal process were executed. But if the story wasn’t picked up on by Truman Capote, it’d be the sort of thing that would remain a part of Holcomb, Kansas history, but not be world famous.

But Truman Capote took an interest, and in doing so created a new form of the novel, the True Crime non-fiction novel. In his way, we wouldn’t have shows like Unsolved Mysteries, or the entire section of book stores. Such is the impact of the book, which was a huge success.

Richard Brooks filmed the book in 1967, and it’s a fairly straightforward, but somewhat dated take on the material. The dating is not too unfortunate, but the dreams of Smith (Robert Blake) play a bit cheesy. Regardless, the film is effective, and Blake gives a nuanced performance that gains different weight after his later travails with the law. The film mostly follows their exodus, and the time they’re on the run from the cops post-killings. Once in jail, Richard Hickcock (Scott Wilson) is more okay with what’s going on, while Perry regrets his mistake, and doesn’t want to die. But Perry is sensitive, a anspirin junkie with bad legs, who feels the weight of his faults.

It’s a sturdy adaptation, and Brooks has fun with his transitions. But what makes the film so memorable is the cinematography by Conrad Hall. The anamorphic (2.35:1) black and white photography is breathtaking throughout, and Hall elevates the thriller to a level of genius. The Blu-ray transfer is the best home video presentation, and the image sings now. The film comes in 5.1 TrueHD, but the soundtrack can only be so boosted. Extras are non-existent.

Capote is then the fleshed out version of Capote’s involvement. Where the film and book have the author’s voice throughout, Bennett Miller’s film shows how Capote was involved in the case. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays the diminutive Capote, and the film basically starts with the killing, and Truman finding out about it. He heads to Kansas with Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) to follow the case. He makes friends with sheriff Alvin Dewey (Chris Cooper) and his wife (Amy Ryan), and follows from that side of things until the two men are caught. When Capote sees Perry (Clifton Collins Jr.) something passes.

Capote can’t finish his book until the trials and possible execution are over, and so he teases out his relationship with Perry. Truman says he’s partly attracted to him because he sees himself in him. But his relationship with Perry is also very manipulative, and he seems to pull the strings to help expand and contract their stay of execution. A self-absorbed ass, Capote alienates Lee, and has a mixed relationship with his lover Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood). But the end of Perry gives him his ending. It’s a twisted way to get the ending he says he’s waiting for.

Capote and Infamous were scheduled to come out around the same time, but when Hoffman’s Oscar steam kept building, Infamous disappeared, and was barely released. Alas, I like Douglas McGrath’s version of what went wrong with Capote post-In cold Blood more than Miller’s manipulative and destroyed version of the man. Maybe because Capote seems so drawn from In Cold Blood, that it’s got something of a Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid quality. Regardless, Phillip Seymoru Hoffman is one of the great actors of his generation and watching him fall into Capote – even though you never buy the resemblance – he gets the character, and creates the narrative for himself. Working with Keener, the two have great chemistry, and he can handle a close up. Him working with either Cooper or Collins Jr., those scenes sing, but I don’t like the final conclusion (that Capote sold his soul), nor the attitude towards Capote. Who do you trust more, George Plimpton or Gerald Clarke? The film works on its own terms, but it has the seriousness of an Oscar picture.

The film is also presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in Dolby Digital 5.1 true HD. The film also comes with a commentary by director Bennett Miller and Hoffman, and then a second with Miller and DP Adam Kimmel, and the first is definitely fun to listen to. The disc also comes with a two part Making of (35 min.) and a Truman Capote-specific “Answered Prayers” (7 min.). The main bonus – in its way – is In Cold Blood, but what a bonus.

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