Infamous (2006)

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Review #272 of 365
Film: Infamous (2006) [R] 110 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $13.75
Where Viewed: Landmark Mayan, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 10 October 2006
Time: 10:00 a.m.

Directed by: Douglas McGrath (Nicholas Nickleby)
Screenplay by: Douglas McGrath (Emma) based on George Plimpton's book Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintences and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Toby Jones (Mrs. Henderson Presents) • Sandra Bullock (The Lake House) • Daniel Craig (Renaissance) • Jeff Daniels (RV) • Sigourney Weaver (The Village) • Juliet Stevenson (Mona Lisa Smile) • John Benjamin Hickey (Flightplan) • Michael Panes (Adam & Steve) • Hope Davis (The Weather Man) • Peter Bogdanovich ("The Sopranos") • Isabella Rossellini ("Alias") • Lee Pace ("Wonderfalls") • Gwyneth Paltrow (Proof) • Bethlyn Gerard (Nightstand) • Joey Basham (Rolling Kansas)

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
One of the hardest things in the world is to be second place in a race to release a biopic. Even if yours is superior in nearly every way, your film is going to have to be doubly good to get noticed and triply good to eclipse the winner. Such is the sad saga of the two Truman Capote biopics. Last year's Capote won great critical acclaim [not from this critic—it took me seeing it two times to get anything out of it and the first time I saw it I gave it $5 on the W.I.P. Scale™] and Philip Seymour Hoffman won a Best Actor award from the Academy with his mumbled, ambivalent, portrayal of Truman Capote. Not that this matters as I am but one critic in a sea of critics who all think they know best. Well, it's too bad for Douglas McGrath's version of the story called, Infamous, that a lot of critics are going to have Hoffman's Capote on their mind (which they obviously thought was a great performance) and Bennett Miller's film as well, because actually, British actor Toby Jones's Truman and McGrath's version based on George Plimpton's biography are far, far better than Hoffman's Truman and Bennett Miller's film. One can never make fair comparisons until one has seen both, and I'm guessing one of two things will happen for most critics. They will regret they spoke so highly of Hoffman's Capote, Hoffman, and the film Capote in general, and try to run from that by blasting and small flaws they can find in Infamous to cover their tracks, or, or they will not regret it and just blast it anyway. Why not just be honest and admit that both films have certain strengths and weaknesses as does every film. Maybe, ultimately, it is unnecessary to compare them. But, I will anyway, yet I will do so by pointing out all of the strengths of Infamous and without dwelling on the weaknesses of Capote.

"…British actor Toby Jones's Truman and McGrath's Infamous are far, far better than Hoffman's Truman and Bennett Miller's Capote."
Both films focus on largely the same period of Truman Capote's life, which surrounds the years he researched and wrote In Cold Blood. Truman Capote (Toby Jones) hob knobs with his Manhattan socialite crowd going from luncheon to dinner party spreading carefully selected nuggets of gossip from person to person and generally making himself the most important and trusted friend in the circle that included: Babe Paley (Sigourney Wearver), Diana Vreeland (Juliet Stevenson), Slim Keith (Hope Davis), and Marella Agnelli (Isabella Rossellini). Upon reading in the paper about a horrible murder of a wealthy Kansas farming family, he decides to investigate to write and article on the impact of a murder on a small town in middle America for the New Yorker. When he arrives with his childhood best friend and fellow author, Nelle Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock), in Kansas, he is neither welcomed nor received in a manner to which he has grown accustomed. The lead investigator for the murder, Alvin Dewey (Jeff Daniels), wants nothing to do with the "strange woman" in the hat. "What makes you think I'm strange?" Capote replies to the identification. It takes time for the town to warm up to Capote, and it's not until they discover that he's arm wrestled with Humphrey Bogart via Alvin Dewey's wife, Marie (Bethlyn Gerard) who invites the wayward couple to Christmas dinner, that he becomes their own town-celebrity with more dinner invitations than he got in NYC. At which point, he's able to crack open the town and get at his story. Just when that's going well, however, Dewey's men capture the killers, Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) and Dick Hickock (Lee Pace), and everything changes. From the moment he sees Perry on the day he and Dick are brought back to town from Las Vegas to face charges, there is a electrifying connection between the two. Ultimately, the article becomes a book, and meeting the killers and getting to the bottom of what made them capable of committing this heinous crime becomes his obsession. An obsession that will consume him for the next five years until, ultimately, they are hanged and he has an ending for his book. An obsession that ultimately will so devour him that, when published, he'll find himself unable to ever write another novel again.

The strengths of this version of the story are numerous. First and foremost is Toby Jones's portrayal of Truman Capote. I didn't know Capote, of course, but from what I've read about him, he was a lot more like Jones's portrayal than Hoffman's. There was no moment in Hoffman's portrayal that I actually believed Capote was a gay man. I found there to be no chemistry real or implied between Hoffman's Capote and Clifton Collins Jr.'s Perry. While Daniel Craig's Perry may lack physical congruity to the actual man involved, his emotional baggage, sensibilities, and confusion for his feelings toward Capote seem far more real. Toby Jones's vocal choices for Capote were right on the money. I didn't have to see the movie twice to catch all of his lines. Sandra Bullock has also done a phenomenal job with Nelle Harper Lee. There's an obvious sensitivity in her toward Truman, yet she's the only one capable of really taking him to task. There's one very juicy scene where she gets all hot an bothered by Truman's choices to blend fiction and non-fiction as he experiments with this new true crime novel genre. Obviously, she doesn't like it. This scene, however, subtle at the time in greater implications signals a watershed in understanding of Capote the man. His life has always been a blend of fiction and non-fiction from the time he made up stories as to why his parents abandoned him to live with his aunts. His imagination became his reality and his sanctuary. Careful attention to the rest of the film will bring about countless examples where he either outright lies, folds the truth, or presents facts in his unique way such that they portray events as he wants them to have happened whether they happened that way or not. Daniel Craig brings a into focus what Truman Capote describes as "The Tender and the Terrible side-by-side inside him," in a way that requires an actor with soulful depth. In a way, his portrayal of the tormented Perry, who was raised by alcoholic, divorced parents, deprived of his father's love, and never known what was going on inside himself, smacked of Heath Ledger's portrayal of Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain.

From the opening scene in a night club featuring a Peggy Lee-esque performance by Gweneth Paltrow singing "What is this thing called love" with Truman and Babe looking on, the film is seeded with hints as to what the writer thinks is going on in Truman's mind, for as surrounded by people who adore him, including his long-time partner, Jack Dunphy (John Benjamin Hickey), really he perceives himself to be all alone. He has yet to find his soul mate. Jack describes their relationship as a perfect arrangement. The two have about as much chemistry as frozen fish sticks and whipped cream. Ironically, as is pointed out by Nelle, Truman is nearly more at home with the people of the Kansas town than he is in NYC. These are his people. In one more particularly revealing character scene during the Dewey Christmas dinner invite, Alvin's son, Paul (Joey Basham), beats Truman in an arm wrestling match leaping to his feet shouting, "I beat the guy who beat Humphrey Bogart!". The loss causes Alvin to doubt that Truman ever even arm wrestled before let alone beat Boggie. Truman says, "Do you honestly think I would deprive your son of victory on Christmas Day in front of his friends being the kind of person I am? That would more be a gift of switches and coal." Later, he beats Alvin in arm wrestling much to his complete shock. "You have to be strong. The world is not kind to little things," Capote explains. When dissected, this scene reveals so much about the kind of person Capote might really be were he not raised by a woman who wanted to be a Park Avenue socialite herself, but lived in rural Alabama; were he not born a diminutive person with a grating voice with mannerisms unbecoming to a decent gentleman of the time in a cold, cruel, violent, discriminatory society; and were he not so hell bent to prove himself at the expense of himself. The strength of the performances and writing of some of these scenes that seem at first almost like throwaways, that makes this film incredibly fascinating and far more engaging than its predecessor. To share just a glimpse of a couple more: there's a remarkable series of flashbacks of Perry's life as a child as told by him to Truman that make the heart ache for this poor lad. There's an indelible story told by Nelle about a time when she and Truman were in the Christmas Parade as snowflakes and Truman's parents fail to show up to see him as promised. There's a magnificent scene where just after a confessional of love from Perry in the cell and a kiss whether real or imagined in Truman's mind, that he returns to the hotel giddy like a school girl, until he realizes sitting in front of the mirror that this is a love that shall never be consummated because Perry is in prison an going to most likely be put to death; but, worse, he realizes—and mind you this scene in the hotel has zero dialog, this is all from his facial expressions—that actually he's fallen in love with a man capable of killing four people in cold blood. Finally, there's another truly outstanding scene told in flashback of the killers the night of the murders and how Perry responded to Dick's insinuations of his sexuality during the committing of the crime by slitting the father's throat and putting the shot gun to the head of the son bound and gagged to the basement sofa before shooting him.

For movies of approximately the same length, Infamous, delivers far more insight into the mind and desires of Truman Capote than does the film, Capote. Toby Jones's portrayal comes across far less like a mumbling psychopath obsessed with a murder, and much more as brilliant and conflicted author with a great sense of humor and style, whom, after the success of six books, is still trying to prove to the cruel world that this tiny man is somebody.

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Cast Members
Toby JonesSandra BullockDaniel Craig
Jeff DanielsSigourney WeaverJuliet Stevenson
John Benjamin BenjaminMichael PanesHope Davis
Peter BogdanovichIsabella RosselliniLee Pace
Gwyneth Paltrow
Douglas McGrath
Musical Director
Rachael Portman
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Infamous (2006) Review-lite [150-word cap]
Last year's Capote won critical acclaim and a Best Actor award for Philip Seymour Hoffman's mumbled, ambivalent, portrayal of Truman Capote. Which is all too bad for Douglas McGrath's Truman Capote film, Infamous, because Toby Jones is a better Capote and this is the better of the two films. Both films focus on the period of Capote's life which surrounds the years he researched and wrote In Cold Blood. Infamous differs in that the writing of what would otherwise be throwaway scenes is so strong, and the character portrayals so compelling, ultimately we get a far more interesting look at who Capote was. Both casts are great, to be sure, however the former all but closets Capote's homosexuality, while Infamous embraces it. This frees it to explore the nuances of the Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) / Capote relationship and Capote's character in general with more significance.

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