Built around a typically strong performance by Hoffman, Capote is a slow, methodical biopic that oozes prestige, sometimes at the expense of excitement or liveliness. Focusing on the years author Truman Capote spent writing his seminal nonfiction work In Cold Blood, Capote paints its protagonist as a fey, manipulative and tortured man, and Hoffman makes him intriguing, even if he's not given very many emotional shades to work with.
In 1959, two men murdered a family in rural Kansas, and Capote headed off to cover the story for the New Yorker with his research assistant Harper Lee (Keener) in tow. Capote, the quintessential gay, New York intellectual, doesn't exactly fit in with the small-town sheriff (Chris Cooper, underused) nor the local residents, but when the killers are caught, he forms an unlikely bond with brooding, articulate murderer Perry Smith (Collins).
Over four years, the Kansas murder story consumes Capote's life, as it grows from a New Yorker piece into a book, and he becomes closer and closer to Smith, with whom he may be falling in love. Although Capote befriends Smith, he manipulates and deceives the man when it serves his book, and abandons Smith in his darkest hour, right before he is to be executed. It's in these late scenes that the film achieves its greatest power, with Capote clearly torn between his desire to get a perfect story for his book and his desire to help someone who has become his friend.
Too much of the time, though, first-time director Miller and actor-turned-screenwriter Dan Futterman depend on Hoffman to do all of the work, giving him little story to work with. Other characters, including legendary New Yorker editor William Shawn (Bob Balaban), Capote's long-suffering lover (Bruce Greenwood) and Lee, a notable author herself (To Kill a Mockingbird), are given little to do other than react to Capote's outrageous and irritating behavior. Even Smith is a cipher until near the end of the movie, when Collins reveals his inner vulnerability and nearly steals the show from Hoffman.
The problem is there just isn't enough show to steal. With all of the weight on Hoffman's performance, the rest of the film just lays down limply, and Capote is too smug and aloof a figure to carry it on his own. There's an interesting story here, but it's far more likely captured in Capote's book than in this inconsistent film.