AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Director: Bennett Miller (Dir)
Release Date:   2005
Duration (in mins):  109 or 114-115
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Cast: Allie Mickelson  (Laura Kinney)
  Kelci Stephenson  (Nancy Clutter)
  Philip Seymour Hoffman  (Truman Capote)

Summary: On 15 November 1959, teenager Laura Kinney finds the body of her best friend, Nancy Clutter, who has been murdered along with Nancy's father Herb, mother Bonnie and younger brother Kenyon in their farmhouse in rural Holcomb, Kansas. The next day in New York City, famed writer and bon vivant Truman Capote reads The New York Times , searching for a nonfiction story about which to write. Intrigued by the small article about the Clutters, Truman calls William Shawn, the editor of The New Yorker , which frequently publishes Truman’s work, and tells him that he has found his subject. Truman is accompanied to Kansas by his childhood friend, Nelle Harper Lee, who is devoted to the openly homosexual, erudite and charming Truman, despite his egotism and biting humor. Upon arriving at Garden City, near Holcomb, Truman and Nelle introduce themselves to Alvin Dewey of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, who is heading the inquiry into the Clutters’ deaths, to ask for an interview. Truman explains that he is writing an article about the effect of the shocking violence on the small town and does not care if the killers are ever caught. Bitterly declaring that he does care, Dewey dismisses Nelle and Truman, who then attend Dewey’s next press conference along with throngs of reporters. Because the townspeople are wary of the flamboyant Truman, he allows Nelle to take the lead in approaching Laura. Soothed when Truman confides that people often misjudge him because of his looks and his unusual, high-pitched voice, Laura gives him Nancy’s diary. Truman and Nelle make another inroad when Dewey’s wife Marie, a native of New Orleans as is Truman, invites the famous writer of Breakfast at Tiffany’s to dinner. Truman’s sparkling storytelling wins over Marie, but it is his moving description of his stepfather’s reaction to his mother’s death that persuades Dewey, who was friends with Herb, to show Truman and Nelle the crime scene photos. Studying the grisly pictures, Truman comments on the incongruity of the violence and the seeming tenderness of the killers, as Nancy had been tucked into her bed and a pillow placed under Kenyon’s head before they were shot. Back at their hotel, Nelle and Truman are celebrating that Nelle’s first book, To Kill a Mockingbird , is about to be published when Jack Dunphy, Truman’s longtime companion, telephones. A struggling writer himself, Jack reacts jealously to Nelle’s success and presses Truman to come home, but Truman decides to stay. Truman and Nelle, who are relying on their extensive powers of recall rather than notes or tape recorders, continue to interview locals and gather information about the murders. One evening, while Truman and Nelle enjoy Christmas dinner with the Dewey family, Dewey learns that the two killers, who recently evaded his men in Kansas City, have been captured in Las Vegas. On 6 January 1960, Dewey arrives in Garden City with the two suspects, Perry Edward Smith and Richard Eugene Hickock, and soon after, Truman charms his way in to see Perry, who is being held in a cell inside the sheriff’s private residence to keep him separate from Dick. Perry is initially hostile but, curious about Truman’s friendliness and celebrity, answers Truman’s questions about the questionable strategy of his and Dick’s lawyer. Truman then informs Shawn that he will have enough material for a book rather than just an article, adding he especially has been struck by Perry’s loneliness and desire for education and approval. Summoned by Truman, fashion photographer Richard Avedon comes to Kansas to photograph Dick and Perry, and the news that Truman is writing about the case begins to spread. At the conclusion of their trial, Perry and Dick are found guilty of four counts of first-degree murder and are sentenced to be hanged. Truman is torn between his desire to help Perry, with whom he has become close, and to work on his book, but before returning home, promises that he will get Perry a good lawyer for an appeal. In New York, Jack and Nelle watch, bemused, as Truman regales partygoers with stories about provincial Kansas. Truman informs his friends that the book is the one he was “always meant to write,” and that its purpose will be to return the vilified Perry “to the realm of humanity.” At an interview soon after, Truman tells the reporter that his book will explore the two worlds that co-exist in America—one conservative and quiet, the other violent and explosive—and what happens when they collide. Truman further explains that the experience of researching the book over the past three months has changed his life completely, and that he intends to create a new genre, “the nonfiction novel,” which will use novelistic techniques to tell a true story. With Perry’s and Dick’s executions only six weeks away, Truman realizes that he needs to rush to get their stories, and returns to Kansas. At the federal penitentiary, after bribing the warden to give him unlimited access to the prisoners, Truman learns that Perry has been on a hunger strike. Deeply affected by Perry’s weakened state, Truman nurses him back to health and reveals that, like Perry, he had a very painful childhood. When Perry recovers, Truman states that he needs to understand him completely for his book, or else the world will always see him as a monster. After Perry gives Truman his diaries, Truman tells Nelle that Perry is a “gold mine,” and that when he thinks of how good his book can be, it takes his breath away. Later, Truman lunches with Dewey, who gives him his investigation notes despite his fury that the lawyer Truman secured for Perry and Dick has obtained a stay of execution and a hearing before the Kansas Supreme Court. When Perry thanks Truman, however, and naïvely hopes that Truman’s book will bolster their defense, Truman lies, telling him that he has not yet written a word nor thought of a title, even though he has decided to call it In Cold Blood . Truman presses Perry to discuss the murders but when Perry demurs, and Jack departs for a holiday in Spain, Truman leaves Kansas to join Jack. After a year of intense work, Truman finishes the first half of In Cold Blood , but tells Shawn that he cannot complete the next part until Perry describes the murders, nor can he write the ending until Perry’s and Dick’s fates have been decided. When Shawn informs him that Kansas has denied the killers’ appeal and that he must talk with Perry immediately, as he will be dead by the fall, Truman is stunned into silence. During a visit from Nelle, Truman admits to her Jack’s belief that Truman is using Perry even though he has fallen in love with him. Denying that he loves Perry, Truman asserts that they are so similar, it is if they grew up in the same house, and that one day, Perry walked out the back door while he walked out the front. Truman then travels to Kansas and again lies to Perry, telling him that he has hardly written anything on the book. Soon after, however, Truman gives a reading of the first half of In Cold Blood in New York and is gratified by the thunderous applause. Shawn urges him to complete the book, assuring him that it will have a huge impact on both his reputation and how nonfiction is written. Truman is ambivalent about Perry’s upcoming execution, as he will miss Perry, but Shawn replies that at least he will have his ending. Perry and Dick receive another stay of execution, however, when their appeal is scheduled to be heard in federal court. Frustrated, Truman lashes out at Perry, telling him that the only reason he has been coming to visit him for the past three years is to hear his description of the murders. Storming out, Truman goes to Washington to interview Perry’s sister, who warns him that Perry is a dangerous con man who may be manipulating him. When Truman returns, Perry confronts him with a newspaper account of the reading in New York, but the prevaricating Truman is able to charm him into finally describing how he killed the Clutters. Before returning to New York, Truman completes the third part of his book, detailing the murders. On the phone with a friend, Truman complains that he has spent four years of his life on the project and wants to be done with it, but Dick and Perry have received yet another stay of execution because their case has been sent to the Supreme Court. Perry pleads with Truman via telegram to find them another attorney for their appeal to the Supreme Court but Truman, exhausted and conflicted, does not even try. Soon after, at a party celebrating the premiere of the movie To Kill a Mockingbird , a drunken Truman tells Nelle that he is being “tortured” by Dick and Perry’s legal postponements. Nonetheless, Truman is shaken upon learning from Perry that the Supreme Court has rejected their appeal, and that they are due to be executed in two weeks. On 14 April 1965, almost six years after the murders, Dick and Perry are awaiting execution, while in his hotel room, Truman is almost catatonic and refuses to go to the prison, despite repeated pleas from Perry. Finally Nelle calls and reads to Truman a telegram from Perry forgiving him and expressing gratitude for their friendship. Truman gathers the courage to go to the prison, but arrives so late that he can spend only a few minutes with the condemned men. Fighting back tears, Truman assures them that he did all he could for them, and Perry comforts him. Perry asks Truman to be present when he and Dick are hanged, and so Truman joins Dewey and the other witnesses at the gallows. After Truman watches in horror as Perry, whose last words are an apology to the Clutter family, is hanged, he calls Nelle. Although Truman tells her that it was a terrible experience and that he will never recover, the unsympathetic Nelle tells him that he is alive, while Dick and Perry are not. When Truman protests that he could do nothing to save them, Nelle retorts that he did not want to. On the airplane back to New York, with the ending of his book now finalized, Truman thumbs through Perry’s last diary and stares with melancholy at a portrait of himself, drawn by Perry. 

Distribution Company: Sony Pictures Classics
Production Company: A-Line Pictures
Cooper's Town Productions
Infinity Media, Inc.
Director: Bennett Miller (Dir)
  Ronaldo Nacionales (1st asst dir)
  Richard O'Brien Moran (1st asst dir)
  Charles Crossin (2d asst dir)
  Megan Basaraba (3rd asst dir)
Producer: Caroline Baron (Prod)
  William Vince (Prod)
  Michael Ohoven (Prod)
  Philip Seymour Hoffman (Exec prod)
  Dan Futterman (Exec prod)
  Danny Rosett (Exec prod)
  Kerry Rock (Exec prod)
  Jacques Méthé (Line prod)
  Kyle Mann (Assoc prod)
  Dave Valleau (Assoc prod)
  Kyle Irving (Assoc prod)
  Emily Ziff (Assoc prod)
  Eagle Vision Inc. (Manitoba co-prod)
Writer: Dan Futterman (Scr)

Subject Major: Ambition
  Cultural conflict
Subject Minor: Bribery
  Capital punishment
  Drawings and sketches
  Hunger strikes
  Kansas Bureau of Investigation
  New York City
  The New Yorker (Magazine)
  Prison wardens
  Small town life
  Stay of execution

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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