Last year we saw how the feted gay novelist Truman Capote (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) played on the trust of killer Perry Smith to write his masterpiece, In Cold Blood. Infamous, which was shot at the very same time but held back from release, tells exactly the same story, and hits all the same beats. Comparisons may be invidious, but unless you missed Bennett Miller's very fine film, they're absolutely unavoidable.
I guess the first thing to say is that in its own right, this is a pretty good movie. All the same, two Capotes may be one too many, and most people will prefer one over the other. Some well-respected critics (David Thomson, Scott Foundas) have declared themselves Infamous men. You can put me in the other camp, but if the release dates had been reversed, who knows? My biggest problem watching Douglas McGrath's film was that it spells out and coarsens what was implicit in Miller's: notably the sexual attraction between the writer and the killer; Truman's narcissism and debilitating guilt.
Where Infamous deviates from Capote is in its tone, which is more varied, generally wittier and much lighter in the first half. This gives a better sense of the writer as a social gadfly, gossip and celebrity. It also undermines one of Capote's claims for his own reportage: in the Miller film Truman doesn't just boast of his powers of recall, he backs it up too. In McGrath's we see him rewriting Perry Smith's words for literary effect.
It's also worth noting that while Philip Seymour Hoffman gave a superbly nuanced performance, the diminutive British actor Toby Jones is a much closer physical match. I liked the way he had a pet name for Jeff Daniels' sheriff Alvin Dewey ('Foxy') and found the idea that he endeared himself to the Deweys by name-dropping Hollywood stars not only funnier but more plausible than the literary snob factor which served the same function in Capote.
All of which is arguably to the good. But McGrath hammers home the obvious when he elects to include mockumentary style testimony from famous people playing (once) famous people: we get Juliet Stevenson as social doyenne Diana Vreeland, Sigourney Weaver as Babe Paley, Peter Bogdanovich as Bennett Cerf, Isabella Rossellini as Marella Agnelli and even Gwyneth Paltrow as a ringer for Peggy Lee.
It's an artificial device meant to underline how superficial Truman's New York literary circles really were, but McGrath - who wrote Woody Allen's Bullets Over Broadway and directed Emma and Nicholas Nickleby - isn't a good enough filmmaker to carry off the transition between such arch stylization and the pathos he shoots for in the second half.
Sandra Bullock is very good as Harper Lee and Daniel Craig as Perry Smith, but when both characters haul Truman over the coals for clawing poetic license into reportage, you have to wonder who exactly McGrath thinks he is to point the finger? As far as I'm aware there is absolutely no published evidence that Capote and Smith exchanged a passionate kiss, for instance, unless one of them is talking, which seems highly unlikely at this point.
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