By Dee Dee Vega

You needn't know anything about Truman Capote to sense that when he arrives in the fields of rural Kansas in the opening scenes of Capote to research what would become the reportage novel In Cold Blood—he is a far, far way from home. Bennett Miller's film starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the titular writer begins with stark, sweeping shots of the desolate depression of the Kansas plains. The rest of the film is spent watching Truman's emotional landscape erode until it matches his surroundings because of the lies he must tell to get what he wants—ultimately the truth that was to destroy him.

Perhaps one of the finest films about the process of writing in recently memory (since Barton Fink, at least)—much of the audience under fifty most likely knows Capote not by his massive and finely cultivated personae, but by his work. And that is the best way to come to this film. Hoffman, whose physical characteristics are in no way similar to the wispy raconteur he's portraying seems to morph into the affected voice and swan-like arms of Capote with astonishing grace. But those in the audience who have read In Cold Blood will certainly be impressed with the film for more than Hoffman's near perfect mimesis of the iconic writer because the gravity of the story, in some sense, is defined by the monolithic accomplishment of the work he produced about the Clutter murders.

The movie focuses on the several years that Truman Capote spent gaining the trust of the people of Holcomb, Kansas including Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, the men who murdered the Clutters. Those who have read In Cold Blood approach the film's murderers with hundreds of pages of sympathetic writing to humanize them. As this is Truman's film, everyone else must rely on expository conversation to witness his sense of understanding and genuine affection for killer Perry Smith evolve. But it isn't quite that simple since Smith, for Capote, was not only a real man, but also a "gold mine." As the killers' appeals drag on, and no end is in sight for Capote's novel, his jarring solipsism paints him as a multi-dimensional and disquieting character since despite his morally reprehensible behavior such as lying about providing legal aid for Smith and Hickock—his pain is real.

Capote presents the dilemma of the exploitation of Smith and Hickock by the liquor-swilling Truman matched against the value of the work he created. The key to Capote happens when William Shawn (the tragically underrated Bob Balaban), editor of the New Yorker, tells Truman "this book will change the way people write." And forty years later, no one remembers Smith or Hickock, but the legacy Capote left for writers resonates through the craft to this day.