Flamboyantly gay writer Truman Capote held the creme de la creme of New York society in his small hands when his attention was drawn to a brutal crime in the Midwest. Capote lived for years caught up with the Clutter case and the men who committed it finally producing "In Cold Blood," the masterpiece which would make him "Infamous."
After last year's multi-award winning "Capote," which was capped by a brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman performance, we get the English take on the American bon vivant by writer/director Douglas McGrath ("Nicholas Nickleby"), who has based his movie on the George Plimpton book "Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career." And so this film, which tells the same tale, is from the points of view of the people who were Capote's best friends and later enemies, a group largely ignored in the previous film. Trouble is, with the exception of Peter Bogdanovich's Bennet Cerf, not a single one of them is convincing and while Toby Jones ("Finding Neverland," "Mrs Henderson Presents") looks and sounds a lot more like Capote than Hoffman did, he doesn't refine the man's essence nor find his anguish the way the Oscar winner did.
It's odd that "Infamous" covers exactly the same time period and events of "Capote," the years spent writing "In Cold Blood." Why, with the inclusion of the likes of Babe Paley (Sigourney Weaver, "The Village"), Slim Keith (Hope Davis, "Proof," "The Weather Man") and Vogue editor Diana Vreeland (Juliet Stevenson , "Bend It Like Beckham," "Nicholas Nickleby"), did McGrath not turn instead to Capote's later years, when excerpts of his unpublished "Answered Prayers" arrived to the horror of all in Esquire magazine, costing the writer all his society friendships?
"Infamous" does have some things going for it, beginning with Sandra Bullock's terrific portrayal of "Mockingbird" author Harper Lee, a role that won Catherine Keener an Oscar nomination. I'd give the edge to Bullock, who not only looks more like the real deal, but delivers her with a softer, more Southern vibe. Daniel Craig ("Munich," the upcoming "Casino Royale"), his hair died brown and wearing brown contacts, also gives an interesting, perhaps more revealing portrayal of Smith. Some of his scenes with Jones are awkwardly imbalanced, but watch him sing a favorite of his dad's and show all the promise broken in the man. In the opening El Morocco scene, Gwyneth Paltrow ("Proof") hits one out of the park performing as Peggy Lee. Weaver, Davis and Stevenson, though, a trio of usually more than reliable actresses, never disappear into their characters and although Michael Panes ("Adam & Steve") does not suggest Gore Vidal, he does get one of the film's funnier bits, describing Truman as 'sounding like a brussel sprout.' Jeff Daniels ("Good Night, and Good Luck," "RV") is a more laid back Alvin Dewey than Chris Cooper was, but that's just fine.
Also commendable are the production design and art direction (Judy Becker and Laura Ballinger, "Brokeback Mountain") which puts us in two vastly different worlds of another era. Costume Design by Ruth Myers ("Nicholas Nickleby") is a bit more hit and miss - she does great wardrobing Bullock, but some of those high fashion duds are ill fitting. The always interesting composer Rachel Portman ("The Lake House") provides music more thought provoking that Jones's performance.
And therein lies the film's biggest flaw - the tone of the film fluctuates between comedy and drama and where it often scores with the former and is lacking in the latter. Toby Jones seems like a circus performer in the film's early goings and although he sometimes grows into the character, his performance waivers in and out. "Infamous" leaves us with potential for a sequel, and there is certainly more to Capote's story to tell. Hopefully this won't be the team to tell it.
In 1959 a short news story appeared in the New York newspapers telling of the brutal multiple murders of a family in a small Kansas town. The story struck a note with acclaimed novelist Truman Capote and the diminutive author headed out west to write an article about the killings. This seemingly simple task mushroomed into a years long mission to create a new type of novel, one based on fact instead of fiction, in “Infamous.”
Writer/director Douglas McGrath is a day late and a dollar short in his endeavor to tell a story that too recently spawned another, Oscar-winning version of this true crime tale. Last year, Bennett Miller helmed Capote,” a film that earned Philip Seymour Hoffman his much-deserved Academy Award for best actor of 2005. McGrath’s cut at the story of Capote’s physical and emotional journey is much the same as the previous telling but doesn’t have the depth and nuance of that earlier work.
Toby Jones reprises the role of Capote but, while the actor is more physically like the “In Cold Blood” author, he is less effective than the brilliant Hoffman. Jones is almost a caricature to Hoffman’s character-embracing performance but he does have fun demonstrating the droll wit and subtle double entendres that Truman Capote was famous for. Sandra Bullock plays Truman’s childhood friend, companion and confidant, Nell Harper Lee, the Pulitzer prize-winning author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but gives a far less complex performance when compared to Kathleen Keener’s sparkling, Oscar nominated performance of that character in “Capote.” (I know, I keep comparing it to Miller’s better film but “Infamous” comes out a bad time, mere months after the earlier film’s Oscar noms and wins. Familiarity breeds contempt, maybe?)
The rest of the cast don’t really provide dimension to their performances supporting Jones, particularly Daniel Craig as convicted killer Perry Smith. When compared to that character’s portrayal by Robert Blake in “In Cold Blood” and Clifton Collins, Jr., in Capote,” Craig (miscast) never evokes sympathy for Perry Smith and killer’s relationship with Truman rings false. With a cast the likes of Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, Gwyneth Paltrow, Isabella Rossellini, Juliet Stevenson and Sigourney Weaver, one would expect more. I think the problem lay in the underwritten script by helmer McGrath who gives this fine cast little more than cameo roles to fill.
The production team does a good job capturing the period feel of New York City and a small midwestern town in the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s. I particularly like Jones’s costumes (by Ruth Myer) as the flamboyant, undoubtedly gay-and-flaunting-it Capote. Good attention to detail helps, too, like authentic looking phones. (There was a gaff in Capote” when Truman talks to Nell on a modular jack phone. I wonder if many noticed this goof?)
Infamous” is a fair telling of Capote’s years of obsession over Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, his book and their fate. Being released so soon after we drank our fill of “Capote,” this new version of the story will garner modest attention, at best, and is better suited for the small screen and home vid. Timing is everything, I guess. I give it a B-.
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