Saturated to the gills with true crime and made-up memoirs, we cant easily reconstruct the shock and awe that greeted Truman Capotes highfalutin 1965 nonfiction novel about the murder of an innocent Kansas family by two young men for $45 and a radio. Two years later, Capote gave his blessing to a breathless film adaptation by Richard Brooks (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Elmer Gantry), during the shooting of which the fame-addicted writer drove Brooks mad by showing up on set to kibitz with a disruptive crowd of fans and journalists. Why Capote liked the movie so much (or said he did) isnt entirely clear, for though its a gripping piece of American Gothic, its as thematically timid as it is formally flamboyant. (Pauline Kael, dissenting from mostly admiring reviews, dismissed Conrad Halls black-and-white cinematography as tabloid photography.) Brooks expository screenplay doffs its cap to the intersection of the two Americas Capote saw in the case one decent and God-fearing (in the movie, the ill-fated Clutter family are naively presented as total innocents), the other psychopathic and deceitful and dutifully hints at a homoerotic bond between the killers. But theres little sign of Capotes worldly irony or his mandarin prose, in part because he is weakly represented in the film by a journalist (Youre not here to write news, John Forsythes detective observes acidly) whos no more than a standard noir iconoclast, and straight as a die too. For all its conventional psychodrama, In Cold Blood is primarily memorable for the fine acting of Robert Blake (hes the one with qualms!) as the schizoid Perry Smith and, in particular, Scott Wilson, whos just terrific as Dick Hickock, at once an all-American boy and a pure outsider and therefore the one who most interested Capote. I enjoyed Bennett Millers Capote, but I wonder what it says about our current cultural obsessions that today we are more fascinated by a celebrity journalist than by a pair of murderers willing to kill for no compelling reason. (Nuart)
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