On November 16, 1959, Truman Capote reads about the murder of a Kansas family. There are no suspects. With Harper Lee, he visits the town: he wants to write about their response. First he must get locals to talk, then, after arrests, he must gain access to the prisoners. One talks constantly; the other, Perry Smith, says little. Capote is implacable, wanting the story, believing this book will establish a new form of reportage: he must figure out what Perry wants. Their relationship becomes something more than writer and character: Perry killed in cold blood, the state will execute him in cold blood; does Capote get his story through cold calculation, or is there a price for him to pay?
While researching his novel "In Cold Blood", Truman Capote develops a close relationship with convicted murderers Dick Hickock and Perry Smith.
- The story opens at a fancy restaurant in 1959, where Babe Paley (Signourney Weaver) and Truman Capote (Toby Jones) are seated. Kitty Dean (Gyneth Paltrow) is introduced, and sings. She pauses, emotional, during the song, but finishes strong.
Later, Truman sits in a lavish hotel suite and reads about a Kansas murder in the newspaper. He then arranges a meeting with his gossip source. We cut to several people describing Capote to the camera. Over lunch, Capote meets with his gossip source, Slim Keith (Hope Davis), then tells his editor he wants to pursue the murder story for a New Yorker Magazine article.
He spends time talking to several women: Babe, Nelle (Sandra Bullock) and Marella (Isabella Rossellini) and spreads gossip. We hear about Jack Dunphy (John Benjamin Hickey), who is Truman's lover.
Truman and Nelle arrive in Kansas and attend a police briefing held by Alvin Dewey (Jeff Daniels). His effeminate style is ridiculed by the other reports, and Alvin refuses to cooperate with him. Truman continues to be mistaken for a woman, and Nelle attempts to reign in his wild style. He goes out to the home of the murders and snoops around.
After changing his clothing into a more masculine style and visits Alvin, but he does not convince him. However, over Christmas, he and Nelle are invited to dinner at the Dewey's house by Marie Dewey (Bethlyn Gerard), Alvin's wife. Conversation is stilted until Capote begins dropping names of famous people he has met. He begins to earn some respect after beating Alvin's son Paul (Joey Basham) in arm-wrestling. Capote suddenly starts receiving invitations for dinner via friends of the Deweys, and Capote starts collecting gossip and details about the murders.
Truman decides to write a novel instead of an article. He wants to fictionalize the facts, and he and Nelle argue over writing style. Shortly after, Alvin announces the killers have been captured. As they are escorted into the jail, one of them, Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) looks strangely at Capote. Capote manages to get in to interview the killers. The other, Dick Hickock (Lee Pace) describes the murders, but Perry won't cooperate.
After Capote learns that Smith is interested in art, he starts sharing stories with him about celebrities, and lets Smith beat him in arm-wrestling. However, he still refuses to share information. Back home, Truman has trouble describing Perry. Babe reveals her husband is cheating on him, and despite promising secrecy, Capote tells his gossip circle. Capote sends Perry a number of smut magazines, but Perry responds gracefully. In return, Capote sends him copies of his books, and Perry reviews them critically.
Truman returns to visit Perry, and again Perry refuses to tell his story. After a night of thought, Capote tells Perry his own story. Perry is enraged at first, thinking that Truman is trying to trick him, since both of their mothers committed suicide. Perry finally agrees to tell the story, but when he learns the story is called "In Cold Blood", he starts to rape Truman, then kicks him out. He refuses to go on until he sees what's been written so far.
Perry's description of the murder is graphic, but he shows moments of tenderness towards his victims, and Capote captures the details. The killers are sentenced to death, and in the cell, Perry confesses to being in love with Capote, and Capote reciprocates, sharing a kiss.
Appeals take 5 years, during which Perry writes 2 letters a week. The waiting is interminable for them, and Truman is depressed at the prospect of being put to death. The killers request Truman to witness the execution, and Truman tells Perry to apologize. Perry leaves a tape of himself singing, for Truman.
The story is finished, and the book is a success, but Capote is ruined by the loss of Perry. Nelle talks about how writers put everything they have into a book, and the letdown afterwards is hard to come out of. The story ends with Truman trying to be productive, but not fooling anyone.