Toby Jones as Truman Capote
Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee
Daniel Craig as Perry Smith
Lee Pace as Dick Hickock
Peter Bogdanovich as Bennett Cerf
Jeff Daniels as Alvin Dewey
Hope Davis as Slim Keith
Gwyneth Paltrow as Peggy Lee
Isabella Rossellini as Marella Agnelli
Juliet Stevenson as Diana Vreeland
Sigourney Weaver as Babe Paley
Directed by Douglas McGrath
If you ever wondered what “Capote” might be like as a comedy, here ya go! Adding humor doesn’t necessarily make this better than last year’s standout drama, but it does offer another entertaining side to the same story.
New York author Truman Capote (Toby Jones) goes to Kansas along with his good friend, novelist Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock), to investigate the brutal murder of a family by two men. The plan is to write a new kind of non-fiction novel, but once Capote gets there, he quickly forms a close personal bond with one of the suspected killers, Perry Smith (Daniel Craig), which makes it harder for him to remain unbiased.
Trying to review “Infamous” without the specter of “Capote” looming overhead is nearly impossible, and for anyone who has seen Philip Seymour Hoffman’s turn as the author/playwright last year, the thought of relatively unknown British actor Tobey Jones trying to fill Capote’s lofty white suit might seem like just as an impossible task.
Fortunately, filmmaker Douglas McGrath (“Emma”) has taken a different approach to the same period in Truman Capote’s life, basing it on George Plimpton’s book of interviews. Opening with scenes of the author in his natural habitat, hanging with New York wealthy socialites, his “swans”, we see Truman’s charm at work, as he convinces his subjects to reveal all their secrets and the latest gossip. When he travels to Kansas to investigate the gruesome murder of a family, he arrives in all his sartorial glory, flaunting his homosexuality by flirting with the town sheriff, played by Jeff Daniels. At first, the locals don’t know what to think of Truman so they ignore him, but he manages to get himself invited to dinner by the sheriff’s wife, and he starts to win people over by sharing anecdotes of time spent hobnobbing with the movies stars they love. Once the killers are caught and Truman interviews Perry Smith, he realizes that they have a few things in common, and as they start to become closer, it makes Truman feel even guiltier about exploiting Smith for his novel.
As a completely stand-alone accounting of Capote’s research into the book, McGrath has written an enjoyable film that will certainly be more entertaining to some people, since it’s not as slow or dour from beginning to end. It deals a lot more with Capote’s interaction with his New York friends at his many dinner parties, one which is attended by Bill Halley, the CBS president played by Frank Langella in “Good Night, And Good Luck,” just to remind us how all these biopics tie together.
Playing up Capote’s distinctive humor gives the movie a schizophrenic tone, especially when things start getting more serious, and it’s hard to take it as seriously after watching Capote flounce around with his trademark quips. Just as “Capote” was a serious drama, “Infamous” is more like a light-hearted TV movie for a wider audience, though by the end, they’ve become the same movie, as Perry reveals the truth to Truman about what happened the night of the murders and we’re given a less gory reenactment.
That’s not to take anything away from McGrath’s script or the equally talented cast he assembled for it. Jones plays Capote far more flamboyantly, which makes him more believable as the author than Hoffman, partially because of his diminutive size, but also, because he plays up Capote’s cartoonish public persona. Jones isn’t as strong at conveying the deep emotions Hoffman expressed in the role, so we don’t really feel the character’s torment or sorrow as much and don’t feel as sympathetic towards what the years spent writing the book did to him.
Daniel Craig is likely to get a lot of attention for his performance as Perry Smith that was equally deserved by Clifton Collins Jr, but it’s a very different role in Craig’s hands, fiercer and more driven by violence. You really feel like Capote might be in danger whenever he’s left in the cell with Smith, which adds another dimension to their relationship in their scenes together. The love shared by the two men is also far more overt, rather than simply being implied, and we’re given far more insight into both men’s tragic pasts including the revelation that Smith might have been abused by his father. The relationship between Truman and Harper Lee, played by Sandra Bullock, is also more fully developed to show the tension that could only come about from knowing someone since childhood.
Still, when it comes down to it, McGrath and his crew aren’t as skilled at recreating the setting or era, and the movie often resorts to an odd technique to make it feel like a documentary, interspersing the story with testimonials from each of the cast as their character. It’s a distracting device, which throws off the film’s brisk pace, even as it gives Sandra Bullock a poignant moment to elaborate on how deeply Capote was affected by Smith’s ultimate execution, something which really should have been conveyed by Jones himself.
The Bottom Line:
Aside from the impossible task of watching “Infamous” without comparing it to the previous Capote pic, Douglas McGrath’s take on the story behind “In Cold Blood” is worthwhile in its own right, if only because it’s a more entertaining approach to the material. The jumps between humor and drama might be jarring at times, but anyone who wants to learn more about the story behind Capote’s novel or just wants to see another take on it should appreciate this.
Infamous opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, October 13, with an expansion into other cities on October 27 and November 3.