A review of “Infamous” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: R for language, violence and mature themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 58 minutes

 

 

          Truman Capote reappears onscreen in yet another take on the In Cold Blood days that were the undoing of the mercurial author.

          Once again it’s a touch-and-go quest for distinction for literature’s insouciant great. English thespian Toby Jones plays the effeminate scribe, the darling of New York City’s post-war café society who was obsessed by a scrupulously premeditated serial murder in the desolate plains of the great Midwest.

          Capote sets out for Kansas with gal pal authoress Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock) whose frank wit and refreshing candor keep him on the straight and narrow. Once ensconced in the rural farming community of Holcomb the pair canvases the town for clues and personal interviews, frequently butting up against strait-laced detective Alvin Dewey (Jeff Daniels) who doesn’t cotton to Capote’s flamboyant ways.

          Capote’s first days in Holcomb are an amusing comedy of manners, a glaring fish-out-of-water tableau. As he absorbs himself in his research for a psychological study of a village shocked by a vicious crime Capote develops an intensely open relationship with delusional murderer Perry Smith (Daniel Craig), one that intensifies over years of court appeals, stays of execution and the interminable wait for the inevitable.

          “Infamous” will inevitably be plagued by comparisons to last year’s “Capote”. Writer/director Douglas McGrath humorously points out that the two films suffered from flip-flop predicaments; “Infamous” had its financing but no Capote and “Capote” had its man – future Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman – and no money. Both started shooting late in 2004 but Warner Independent held back “Infamous” so the two would not overlap.

          Hoffman was spectacular in “Capote”, a beautifully crafted character-driven gem. But I prefer the narrative skill of “Infamous” which constructs a more colorful and in-depth portrait of Capote’s painful transition from light to dark, from social fop to bitter flop as In Cold Blood made him and ruined him.

McGrath’s scripting is luscious, sparkling with warm prose. “This world isn’t kind to little things”, “Deep calling to deep”, etc. Peripheral players create a cunning and crafty portrait of Capote’s shallow but glittering circle – Sigourney Weaver as Babe Paley, Hope Davis as Slim Keith – as McGrath worms his way into the complex union of Capote and his gossipy cohorts, emphasizing the vast distinction between the idle rich and the drama’s plainspoken wounded.

Craig – who continues to rack up wonderful small performances prior to his mainstream turn as James Bond -- is marvelously understated as Capote’s killer crush, the elusory round peg in Capote’s square hole.

          Capote redux – worth going down that road again.