Starring: Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Daniel Craig, Peter Bogdanovich, Jeff Daniels
Director: Douglas McGrath
Because one movie about the exact same period of time in author Truman Capote’s life wasn’t enough, less than a year later we have “Infamous,” a decidedly unnecessary and over-the-top hodgepodge of a film depicting events already hauntingly portrayed in the Oscar-winning, and the wholly superior, film “Capote.” Not to say that “Infamous” doesn’t conjure up a moment or two worth the price of admission, but if you’re looking for one film to watch about Capote’s experiences in Kansas while researching his “non-fiction novel” “In Cold Blood,” than you would do much better seeing last year’s “Capote,” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.
“Infamous” begins with Truman Capote, played here by the admittedly more physically matched actor Toby Jones, mingling with New York’s high society. It is in these scenes where “Infamous” most sets itself apart from “Capote.” Aside from an embarrassingly awful and out of place opening song by Gwyneth Paltrow as singer Peggy Lee in a cameo role, these moments are filled with an enjoyably wry humor as Capote entertains a myriad of socialites and fellow authors. Intermixed throughout are confessional-style thoughts by Capote’s peers that are informative but seemingly out of place.
It is when Capote finally ventures to a small town in Kansas to research the grisly murder of a family that the comparisons to “Capote” start to trickle in. Again the audience is made to laugh as the author gallivants about the small rural town as a fish out of water, but here, unlike “Capote,” these scenes seem contrived and somewhat acrimonious in nature. “Infamous” does hit its stride as Capote delves deeper into the murder of the family and begins interviewing the killers responsible, but its territory that’s already been covered with greater skill in “Capote,” the exception being Capote’s much-theorized relationship with the killer Perry Smith. Whereas “Capote” merely hinted at a romance, “Infamous” goes ahead and portrays them as lovers, which really only succeeds in showing what a ridiculous notion it is.
What “Infamous” does have going for it is some good performances. Toby Jones hams it up as Capote, relishing in the author’s cattiness and playful snottiness, but appropriately toning it down as the film takes on more serious issues. Daniel Craig, the new James Bond, also shows range as the somewhat mournful killer Perry Smith, and shockingly, Sandra Bullock is solid as fellow author and friend to Capote, Harper Lee (“To Kill a Mockingbird”), whose role in this film is larger and more nuanced than Catherine Keener’s in “Capote.”If you’re still torn as to which movie to see – if you only have time for one – than it may come down to how you would like to see Truman Capote portrayed. “Infamous” shows a man who is decidedly more frivolous and naïve, but caring of what happens to the killers, particularly Smith. “Capote,” on the other hand, gives the audience a much darker side to the author. In that film we see a man who manipulates and finally turns his back on the killers just so his book can finally be published – basically signing their death warrants and suggesting his own cold-bloodedness – but is then haunted by his actions, or lack thereof, for the rest of his life. Whichever one is closer to the truth we’ll never know, but in terms of quality and resonance, “Capote” has an undeniable edge.