Directed by Bennett Miller, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr, Chris Cooper, Bruce Greenwood, Bob Balaban and Amy Ryan.

In 'Capote', his first feature film, director Bennett Miller draws an absorbing portrait of a spoilt and self-centred American author. Rather than dealing with the writer in the fashion of a normal biopic, Miller focuses on one defining moment - albeit a rather stretched out one - in Truman Capote's life: the writing of his brilliant ''nonfiction novel" of crime and punishment, 'In Cold Blood'. With a powerhouse performance from Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role and able support by the ever-wonderful Catherine Keener as his childhood friend and moral compass, Harper Lee, this is subtle and classy filmmaking.

Opening with the discovery of the four butchered bodies of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959, the film cuts to a social event in New York with Capote the centre of attention after the publication of his book of short stories, 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'. Looking like an over-grown, big-headed baby with an odd, hesitant trill of a voice (perfected by Hoffman from tape recordings of the author), Capote appears to be out of place amongst the beautiful people but, with his writing, his wit and his wicked sharpness, he has carved a place at the centre of the room and he is determined to hold on to it.

Seeing a small newspaper article about the killings, Capote goes to Holcomb to write a piece for The New Yorker. He brings Harper Lee with him as both a researcher and buffer between his fantastical self and the normal small town folk. Lee has written a novel too, about which Capote is gently patronising when he hears she has found a publisher. The book is called 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and it will win the Pulitzer Prize within the year.

A meeting with one of the two men accused of the killing, Perry Smith (Collins Jr in an intense role), is love at first sight for Capote. Whether it is the love that a journalist has for his subject or that a homosexual man has for a gorgeous hunk of rough trade is never something that the film clarifies. But it does increase the story's grip on Capote and inspire him to expand the project into a book. He doesn't realise that it will be 1966 before 'In Cold Blood' appears and 'Capote' highlights the conflict between his self-absorbed obsession with finishing the book and his (dwindling) compassion for his subjects.

Like its subject, 'Capote' the film is hamstrung by the years of appeals and efforts of the killers to overturn their convictions. While the last half does drag somewhat, the engrossing moral dilemma portrayed here and all-round fine performances are enough to keep the viewer in thrall. Hoffman compiles both the best and the worst of the real Truman, making 'Capote' more clear-sighted elegy, than love letter, to the man who was an exceptional author, yet a terribly flawed human. A quietly powerful film.

Caroline Hennessy