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Infamous (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 23, 2022



Starring Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Daniel Craig, Peter Bogdonovich, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, Gwyneth Paltrow, Isabella Rossellini, Juliet Stevenson, Sigourney Weaver and Lee Pace.

Screenplay by Douglas McGrath.

Directed by Douglas McGrath.

Distributed by Warner Independent Pictures.  118 minutes.  Rated R.

It was just a matter of bad timing that Infamous and Capote come a mere year apart from each other.  Both films examine the same portion of an eccentric, enigmatic artist’s life, but looking at it from different angles.  Just because Infamous is coming out a year after all the Oscar buzz for Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performance as Truman Capote doesn’t mean it’s riding coattails.  In fact, Infamous and Capote were being put together at the same time and the other film just beat it out of the gate.

Although many of the occurrences and characters are the same, the style in which the movies are told is rather different.  Capote was a more intellectual, ironic, cold take on the story.  Infamous luxuriates in the emotional, open, warm and tragic touches of the story.  It’s like a different recording of a favorite song – sometimes new colors and nuances are exposed with a different viewpoint.  Also, this is certainly a fascinating story, perhaps one of the more interesting in Twentieth century literature, which can certainly stand more than one telling.  (In fact, about a decade ago, one night at a bar, a friend and I also toyed with the idea of turning Truman Capote’s Kansas experience into a screenplay.)

This is, of course, the turning point in the life of Capote.  He was a popular writer and bon vivant who became the favorite party accessory for some of the most prominent women in high society, a flamboyant, showy, funny, gossipy charmer.  In the 50s, even in New York, Capote cut a different swathe, but he was able to put people at ease and become the life of the party at will.  Capote didn’t downplay his eccentricities, if anything he pushed them harder on people who barely knew him.

What seems like a minor decision ends up irrevocably changing his life.  He read the story of a Kansas farm family which was brutally murdered, and he decided to go to the heartland to write about it.  It seemed an odd choice for a man best known for chronicling upper class foibles.  However, as he gets involved he is dragged further and further into the world of life and death.

When the killers are caught, he starts a series of interviews with them.  He soon finds himself forced to open himself up to reach one of the killers, a quiet, brooding, intense man named Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) who shares an artistic temperament with the tiny writer.  He sees Smith as a fellow outsider and finds himself being more and more drawn to the brutish killer; putting him in the horrible position of knowing that the man will have to die for his book to work, but if it does happen he will lose the man he loves.

Toby Jones, a British actor who is probably best known in the US for voicing Dobby the Elf in the Harry Potter movies, is quite good as Capote.  Maybe not quite as powerful as Hoffman, but he still nails the role, and unlike Hoffman, Jones also looks eerily like the late author.

He is surrounded by an amazing supporting cast, in large roles (Sandra Bullock shines as Capote’s oldest friend, novelist Harper Lee, soon-to-be Bond Daniel Craig as killer Perry Smith), small (Jeff Daniels as the Kansas sheriff, Sigourney Weaver, Juliet Stevenson, Hope Davis and Isabella Rossellini as society women) and glorified cameos (Gwyneth Paltrow’s jazz singer does one standout performance and never reappears).

Infamous is certainly different from Capote, but just as good in its own way.  Turns out that the world really is a big enough place for dueling Capote movies.  (10/06)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2006 All rights reserved. Posted: October 13, 2006.

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