Infamous (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Another year, another movie about Truman Capote. However, despite covering much the same ground as last year's Capote, Douglas McGrath's Infamous doesn't feel like a remake. The events are the same, but the tone and perspective are different. Capote was at times cool and antiseptic, but Infamous is warmer and more emotionally satisfying. The deep-rooted cynicism that characterized Capote isn't missing here, but it has been muted. It's fair to argue that, while Capote may have the better lead acting performance, Infamous may be more accessible.

In the autumn of 1959, Truman Capote (Toby Jones) reads a newspaper article about a quadruple murder on a Kansas farm. Intrigued and thinking it might make a good topic for a magazine article or a non-fiction novel, he enlists his good friend, Nelle Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock), to accompany him on the journey to Kansas. Once there, he contends with a dour prosecutor, Alvin Dewey (Jeff Daniels), who initially rebuffs Capote's request for "special access" until the eccentric New Yorker regales him with stories of his interaction with Humphrey Bogart and John Huston.

Once the killers, Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) and Dick Hickock (Lee Pace), are found, Capote visits them in jail. It takes little effort for the author to coax Hickcock into talking, but the more intellectual Smith is reticent. Eventually, he and Capote bond, and this leads to an unconsummated love affair. Following the execution of Smith and Hickcock, Capote has an ending to his book, In Cold Blood. Its publication represents both Capote's triumph and his ruin. He will never complete another novel and, although he will live until 1984, the final two decades of his life will be unhappy ones.

There's no question that Infamous has a higher profile cast than Capote. The supporting players include Sandra Bullock, Daniel Craig, and Jeff Daniels in significant parts, and Peter Bogdanovich, Hope Davis, Sigourney Weaver, and Gwyneth Paltrow in "color" roles. Bullock is effective as Harper Lee, coming on equal par with Catherine Keener's interpretation of the same character in Capote. Daniel Craig, soon to be known (and typecast?) as James Bond, provides a powerful and emotionally raw portrayal of Perry Smith. He outshines his co-stars, including Toby Jones.

It is perhaps unfair to compare Jones to Phillip Seymour Hoffman, since the latter provided what could be considered the definitive Capote. His Oscar win was deserved. Jones inhabits Hoffman's shadow; for the most part, his performance works, although there are times early in the film when he seems to be feeling for the role. Hoffman managed to exhibit Capote's eccentricities without turning the man into a caricature. Jones isn't quite as successful. However, once he gets into the meat of the story, he brings out the writer's humanity.

Infamous illustrates how Capote becomes caught in his own trap. In order for his book to achieve the balance that will make it unique, Smith's viewpoint has to be represented. To get that, Capote must give the convict what Lee describes as "what he wants" - a kindred spirit. For this to happen, Capote must bare his soul. He achieves what he desires, but at a price. He comes to care for Smith to the point where they both wonder if they are doomed soul mates. In the end, Capote becomes conflicted - for his book to have the "proper" ending, the man he loves must die by the hangman's noose.

To interrupt the linear chronology, director Douglas McGrath inserts "talking head" interviews with Capote's contemporaries. It's not clear when these supposed interviews are intended to take place, although it's after Capote's death. The segments provide useful background information while contributing a quasi-documentary feel. It's almost like watching a History Channel biography, where conversations with real people are interspersed with re-creations of scenes from the subject's life.

Since Capote and Infamous were both in production at the same time, it's unfair to label either as the work of a copycat. Superficially, they are so similar, it's almost eerie (and a testament to how fascinating this era of Capote's life is to current filmmakers). It's the differences in approach that makes both movies worth watching on their own terms. Capote is the more intellectual of the two films; Infamous is the more emotional. They exist to complement, not eclipse, one another.

Infamous (United States, 2006)

Run Time: 2:00
U.S. Release Date: 2006-10-13
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1