Infamous – Review



Douglas McGrath


Toby Jones”¦”¦”¦.Truman Capote
Sandra Bullock”¦”¦”¦.Nelle Harper Lee
Daniel Craig”¦”¦”¦.Perry Smith
Hope Davis”¦”¦”¦.Slim Keith
Jeff Daniels”¦”¦”¦.Alvin Dewey
Sigourney Weaver”¦”¦”¦.Babe Paley
Peter Bogdanovich”¦”¦”¦.Bennett Cerf

Warner Independent Pictures presents Infamous. Based on the book, Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career, by George Plimpton. Running time: 110 minutes. Rated R (for language, violence and some sexuality).

Leave it to Hollywood, more to the point two different studios, to have the bright idea to make movies with comparable subjects in the same year. Mere coincidences they’ll say. It’s happened before with Armageddon and Deep Impact (civilization’s impending doom by asteroid rocks), as well as Volcano and Dante’s Peak (a population’s impending doom by volcanic activity). Similar over-bloated, big-budgeted disaster movies are one thing, but it has happened before with real-life subjects. Long distance runner Steve Prefontaine got the same treatment with Without Limits (starring Billy Crudup) and Prefontaine (starring Jared Leto).

It’s easy to look at these examples and shake your head, wondering how could two studios have the same close-to-exact idea at near, or around, the same time. Well, keep shaking as they’ve done it again.

Last year, Capote was a moody masterpiece about one writer — not journalist — and his obsession with an inconsequential event, when compared to the rest of the world, which tore a rural Kansas town apart. The sepia-toned, deeply disturbing film appeared on many critics’ ten best lists for 2005. Philip Seymour Hoffman, quietly rising in prominence in acting circles, delivered a pitch-perfect performance as the diminutive Truman Capote. So good, he was justly proclaimed the Best Actor of the Year by his peers in the Hollywood community.

When filmmaker Douglas McGrath finished his script on Truman Capote and the tumultuous events surrounding the violent deaths of a family of four in Kansas, he quickly found that the head of United Artists, per a telephone conversation, had already had a copy on his desk. It turns out the makers of Capote had already begun pitching their script to different studios prior to McGrat’s. And since the filmmakers already had friend Hoffman attached to star, it was a win-win.

This led to McGrath to hastily get funding for his film, Infamous, from Warner Bros. Though, instead of releasing his film at or around the time of the other, the studio waited. And as it waited, accolades, like Oscar gold, were bestowed upon the other Capote film. This posed a dilemma as the studio held onto a project with a relative unknown lead and strong support.

Infamous finally makes its arrival to theater screens, minimal ones at that, with little advertising. The first question that springs to mind: Was it worth the wait? In some respects: yes. The subject is near identical; the biggest difference is in tone and style. Despite a small budget, the film looks like a lavish affair, as there is an emphasis on the gossip that proliferated around Capote. New York yuppies and other societal royalty would hang on his every word of secrets and indiscretions that were supposed to be very hush-hush.

Toby Jones is suited for the role as Capote, having portrayed the iconoclastic writer in English (as in overseas) productions. He plays more to the humorous, flamboyant side of Capote, rather than Hoffman’s Oscar-winning withdrawn portrayal.

Like the previous film, again Truman Capote stumbles across a small news item on the Kansas murders. He leaves for the Midwest with researcher-childhood friend Nelle Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock). Capote has a difficult time getting people to open up — with his manner of dress and townsfolk were quick to call him “ma’am” instead of “sir.” Doors, once closed, now open when he starts to impress the Chief of Police with stories of Hollywood stars and starlets, including one that involves Capote beating Humphrey Bogart in an arm-wrestling contest.

A change of pace, director McGrath breaks away from the ongoing action at inopportune moments to sit-down interviews with many of Capote’s friends and contemporaries staring directly into a camera. It gives the pretense of a documentary, even though they have no place in the story. Another venue, like the gossip hounds talking amongst themselves, would have been a better choice.

And since he decided on Jones as his Capote, McGrath had to fill out his supporting cast card with more recognizable faces. Among the notable performances is Sandra Bullock, who is quietly racking up her acting cred having been a supporting player in last yea’s best picture Crash. Her Harper Lee is not much different than Catherine Keene’s Oscar-nominated performance last year, but the squabbling between her and Capote seems more true to form. Especially when it comes to the write’s blockage Lee has after the release of To Kill a Mockingbird. (It would be her only book published.)

The most surprising performance of Infamous goes to a man who will be synonymous with the phrase “Bond. James Bond.” later this year. Daniel Craig, while much too old to be Perry Smith, the principal killer in the Kansas slayings, brings intensity to his role. He is apprehensive of someone wanting to tell his story, in a book to be titled In Cold Blood no less. But like the police, he opens up when Capote talks about playwright Tennessee Williams and actor Marlon Brando. Their meetings inside the close-quartered cell is combative to an extent, this version of Perry Smith is much more animated and aggressive.

The key to both Capote films lies in the write’s interactions with the criminal; Capote uses his loquaciousness to tell Smith whatever he wanted to hear in exchange for his emotionally draining recollections. Certain details are defined more explicitly in each production, thus giving each a different impression.

Aside from a few standout performances and a lighthearted set design, Infamous fails to unearth anything new. Like Capote, the film covers the same ground by which Truman Capote travels to the Midwest to write a story on the lingering affects on a town after four of its residents had been brutally murdered by two shotgun-toting killers.

Truman Capote may be a man of small stature, but is interesting enough that more than one film can tell his story. But why must two films document the same period of time in Capote’s life? Had the film decided to showcase Capote’s pre-In Cold Blood days, like the literary achievement of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, then maybe it could be seen as a more complete work.

As it exists, it is an okay alternative to those who couldn’t stand the moodiness of last yea’s Capote picture.

Popcorn Junkies’ Ratings for Infamous
(OUT OF 10)