Some of you think I only complain about movies, or that I only complain about certain types of movies. (For example, Peter Jackson films.) That’s not true. I like a lot of films. It’s just not as fun to write about the good ones.
Kris and I are woefully behind on our “see all the Oscar best picture nominees before the awards ceremony” tradition. True, the nominations won’t be announced until the end of the month, but it’s possible for one to make some educated guesses. Most years, we see three or four of the five nominees before they’re announced. This year, the only potential nominee we’ve seen is Crash (and, though we liked it a great deal, it only has a small chance at being nominated). To catch up, we’ll probably need to see at least one film each weekend until March.
Today we decided to take in Capote, which has been receiving all sorts of rave reviews. Though I boycott Regal Cinemas out of principle, sometimes the Fox Tower 10 downtown is our only option, as it was this time.
After parallel parking on the left side of the street (a skill analogous to writing with your left hand if you’re right-handed: it’s do-able, but not prettily), and after being literally ambushed for change by a panhandler, we made our way to the theater. The auditorium was small and already a little crowded. Kris spied four open seats in the back row. I could have sat so that we each had a one-seat buffer, but I decided that I’d be polite and leave two consecutive seats for another couple. This was a smart move: those two seats were soon taken. This was also a dumb move: I sat next to a pathetic movie patron.
The man next to me reeked of cigarettes. (“He smelled like the inside of a smoker’s mouth,” I told Kris after the movie.) He smelled as if he always wore the same clothes when he smoked and never washed them. The smoking had apparently taken other tolls as well. His breathing was labored. Every few minutes he let out a deep, airy sigh. (A sigh that, of course, smelled like the the foul pits of hell.) His chest rattled with phlegm. During the film he had a few fits of wet coughing. When he became bored (along with the rest of the audience), he began picking at his cuticles, making rhythmic (and loud) click click sounds.
So how was the movie?
Capote is a beautiful, well-crafted film that tells the story of Truman Capote’s work on In Cold Blood, his famous “non-fiction novel” of the early sixties. The story follows Capote and Harper Lee (of To Kill a Mockingbird fame) as they research the brutal killings of a family in a small Kansas town.
Unfortunately, the film has no point.
Every aspect of the movie exhibits attention to detail and quality work except the script. The sets and costumes are brilliant, perfectly evoking the world of the early sixties. The acting is top-notch. (Philip Seymour Hoffman ably carries the film as Capote.) The directing is wonderful, slow and measured, patient. The cinematography is beautiful. The script, however, is mundane, even tedious.
Truman Capote is a fundamentally unsympathetic character. The man was a mannered fop, a well-known liar (he told all sorts of tall tales), and blatantly manipulative. In order for a film about him to be effective, we have to care about the other characters, we have to be given a compelling story. That doesn’t happen here.
The central relationship in the film is that between Capote and one of the killers, Perry Smith. We don’t sympathize with the killer, though, and we’re never given any reason to care about their relationship. I was ready to become attached to Harper Lee (played by Catherine Keener, whom I always like), but she’s really a cypher in this film. Think of it: here are the two real-life people used as the basis for Mockingbird‘s Dill and Scout, on screen together again: any fan of the book is wholly willing to become emotionally invested in their adult relationship. We’re never given a chance.
Instead, the film seems to wander aimlessly. When it has a focus, it is on Capote’s relationship with Smith, which is a relationship we just don’t care about. We’re never given any reason we should care.
Capote is not a bad film, but it’s certainly not best picture material. Hoffman could justly win an Oscar for best actor, Bennett Miller (helming his second film) could win for best director, and the cinematography could be honored, but the script, and the film as a whole, don’t deserve that sort of praise. You see? It’s not just King Kong and its ilk that I find fault with — I even find fault with critically-acclaimed films.
As soon as the film was over, before the credits could even begin to roll, the Smoking Man sprang from his seat and slid down the aisle. He was a small, thin man with a biker’s jacket. A million-to-one he was heading outside for a cigarette. Or three.