Or “That other Truman Capote Film”.
Have you heard?... No. What?
Written and directed by Douglas McGrath, “Infamous” is that rare thing in Hollywood; a second film about the same subject that actually makes it to the screens at your local multiplex. So often when competing films are in the works, one or the other is eventually abandoned because the studios realize the public may sense déjà vu and stay away. In the case of the Capote films, “Capote” starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman was rushed to the screens and the star won a richly deserved Academy Award. Now a year or so later, “Infamous”, starring British actor Toby Jones as the writer, has just been released. The trailers for this second film took every opportunity to tout “There’s so much more that you haven’t heard”. Unfortunately, this film doesn’t tell that much more, and what it does tell was already hinted at in “Capote”.
I know, I know. I didn’t believe it either.
The most remarkable thing to me is that both films concentrate on the period of the writer’s life when he was involved with Perry Smith and writing “In Cold Blood”. This is a natural; the book and the subject matter changed the writer and many think this is why he was never able to write another book. But the advertising for “Infamous” led me to believe the film would tell more about Capote’s life and it doesn’t, be more of a traditional biopic, and it isn't. The film begins with Capote noticing the little news blurb about the murder of a wealthy farming family in small town Kansas, follows Capote and his friend, Nell Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock) as they travel to Kansas to research the book and ends after Perry dies. The only significant addition is to show how catty Capote was, gossiping with his high society lady friends. But then we got a hint of that in the first film.
More like a bad excuse…
That isn’t to say that “Infamous” is a bad film. It just seems unnecessary and superfluous. The performances are good, but not as subtle as those in “Capote”.
He had an affair with…
Toby Jones probably plays the character of Capote more true to life; he certainly seems to evoke the writer we are familiar with from his cameo appearances in films like “Murder by Death”; but there was a certain dignity and charm to Hoffman’s less conventional portrayal of the character. As Jones’ Capote arrives in the same town, more than a few people mistakenly refer to him as a woman. We get it. They haven’t been exposed to anyone like this unabashedly gay writer before. But when Hoffman’s Capote arrived in the same town, people simply looked at him strangely. I don’t know which is true, I suspect the former, but there is a more interesting and subtle performance in the later.
Jones seems intent on creating an impersonation of the famous writer. During the previews before the film, we saw a trailer for another film co-starring Jones and he is speaking in a more normal voice. Clearly, he had to work very hard to achieve the effect of sounding and acting like Capote. In Hoffman’s performance, he works more towards suggesting all of the same things. His speech pattern is similar to Capote’s, but less on the mark. In this way, Hoffman is creating a character based on the real person. And he can show us more about the character as well.
She’s recovering from a nose job, is what I heard...
The cast is filled with a bunch of actresses playing the rich society ladies who are Truman’s friends. Sigourney Weaver plays Babe Paley, the wife of the founder of CBS. Hope Davis plays Slim Keith. Isabella Rossellini is Marella Agnelli. Juliet Stevenson plays Diana Vreeland. And Peter Bogdanovich rounds out this group as Bennet Cerf. If you don't know who these people are, the film does little to educate. The only way you will know who they are because each is 'interviewed' throughout the course of the film, like in a documentary, and there names are shown during their first appearance. No, you're right. This doesn't exactly work. Gwyneth Paltrow appears briefly in the beginning as Peggy Lee and sings a song and then disappears. Truman has lunch or dinner or drinks with these various socialites, sometimes alone (the better to gossip about the others) and sometimes in pairs or as a group. The main purpose of this seems to illustrate how gossipy and catty this whole group was. But again, this was better illustrated, and more quickly so, in “Capote” by showing the writer holding court at a party amongst his friends, telling a story about a lunch with James Baldwin.
More like getting rid of a little surprise…
Sandra Bullock is perhaps the best part of the film. As Harper Lee, she brings a quiet influence to her friend's life, acting as a grounding force to the flamboyant writer’s life. Having just finished her book “To Kill a Mockingbird”, she is anxious to start her second book, but agrees to accompany Truman to Kansas, to help him research the murders. During the course of the film, the book is published, becomes a bestseller, is made into an acclaimed film and Capote becomes jealous of his protégé’s fame, straining their relationship. Bullock brings a resigned air to the character; she has grown up with Capote and can put up with his excesses, but she can also cut him down just as quickly. But again, this relationship was portrayed brilliantly by Hoffman and Catherine Keener in the other film.
That’s so scandalous….
Daniel Craig, the new James Bond, appears as Perry Smith and he does a good job, but he seems too old and too mature for the role. My understanding of Perry Smith is that he was fairly young, in his mid-twenties and fairly naïve, the partner in crime was the instigator. In “Infamous”, each of the killers seems to be an equal participant and Craig plays the role as more menacing than you might expect.
Can you believe it?
“Infamous” is not a bad film, but following in the footsteps of “Capote”, it needs to be a great film to remain a part of our consciousness. The two films take very different looks at essentially the same material. As a film, “Capote” is better; better performances, more intriguing and believable look at a specific period in the writer’s life. “Infamous” takes a more in depth look at Capote’s life with the rich and well-to-do in New York and contains a very good impersonation of Capote by British actor Toby Jones, but the performance is jokey and less serious than Hoffman’s and given the subject matter he was researching, that seems more fitting.
I suspect "Infamous" will soon be forgotten.