Film Reviews: Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Starring Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, and Daniel Craig. Written and directed by Douglas McGrath, based on George Plimptonís biography. Rated R.
Tru and Two

The story of last yearís Oscar-winner is told again, to lesser effect.


Infamous tells the story of author Truman Capote and his career-defining decision to write In Cold Blood, his novel about a mass murder in Kansas. Sound familiar? Thatís because the film was in production at the same time as Capote. This happens occasionally, especially when the subject is historical or biographical and thus in the public domain. The current filmís release was delayed a year to minimize the damage from the other movieís proximity. While it isnít as good as Capote, itís good enough to make for an interesting comparison.

Capote is played here by the elfin English actor Toby Jones, who actually voices Dobby the elf in the Harry Potter movies. The tiny Jones is a better fit physically for the role than bulkier Philip Seymour Hoffman was, and his Capote is a lighter, quicker, more reactive one than Hoffmanís. He misses the writerís steely, calculating side, though, and his character comes off as less of a tragic figure and more of a social butterfly who blundered into his doom.

Writer-director Douglas McGrath (who did the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma in 1996) obliges with a brightly lit portrait of the author cattily remarking his way through New York Cityís gossip circles. The script is larded with bon mots and name-dropping anecdotes that the famously witty author uttered in real life, and Jones delivers them with the right aplomb. A parade of actresses with big personalities (Paltrow, Sigourney Weaver, Hope Davis, Isabella Rossellini, Juliet Stevenson) imparts believable glamour to Capoteís world, and Iím only mildly surprised to note Sandra Bullock out-acting Catherine Keener in the role of Harper Lee. McGrath edits with a precision sorely missing from his last film, the turgid Dickens adaptation Nicholas Nickleby. For the first hour, the movieís comic energy propels it forward.

Eventually, though, it goes off the rails after Capote meets killer Perry Smith (Daniel Craig, the future James Bond). Taking its cue from George Plimptonís account of Capoteís behavior, the film posits a more sexually charged relationship between the two. Itís a matter for historians how true this is, but from a dramatic standpoint, the idea that Capote is destroyed because he falls in love with Smith is banal. The staging of the lengthy jailhouse interviews that take over the filmís second half ó with Perry alternately physically threatening Truman and making out with him ó is patently absurd. Even if it werenít, Craig and Jones donít have enough chemistry to carry this off.

The movie is framed by a series of staged interviews with the supporting characters, and though this device starts off as amusing (especially with Stevensonís imperious turn as Diana Vreeland), it winds up spelling out everything the script has to say about how the case made Capoteís reputation and destroyed his talent simultaneously. This urge to make the film more user-friendly only succeeds in robbing it of the gravitas that Bennett Millerís objective, uncompromising work achieved so well. When I reviewed Capote last year, I said it could have used more fizz. Infamous obliges, but at a considerable cost.

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