No pale copy
By Lady Liberty
*** 1/2 out of ****
I was frankly leery of this film. Last year's Capote was a brilliantly conceived and executed movie that told the story of how and why Truman Capote wrote the classic In Cold Blood. Infamous tells much the same story, and I couldn't imagine how it could be told better, or why someone would even bother to duplicate the effort. But a movie loving friend of mine wanted to see it after having heard raves for certain performances, and I was willing to go along. As it happens, I'm glad she convinced me to go because Infamous is well worth seeing.
As we all already know, Truman Capote (Toby Jones) was a glaringly gay man who frequented high society parties and events. His personal address book read like a "who's who" among the rich and famous in New York. He gossiped at lunches with Diana Vreeland (Juliet Stevenson), the editor of Vogue. He attended parties thrown by Babe Paley (Sigourney Weaver), the wife of the man who owned the CBS television network. Slim Keith (Hope Davis), Marella Agnelli (Isabella Rosselini), and Gore Vidal (Michael Panes) were his friends. When he showed up at a night club to hear Peggy Lee (Gwyneth Paltrow) sing, a special table was added for him, and the singer noted his presence in the room.
His closest and oldest friend, though, was the unpretentious Nelle Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock) with whom he'd grown up in small-town Alabama. In 1959, Lee had finished her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, but it was not yet published. Capote, meanwhile, already had six books under his belt. Infamous begins with Capote's discovery of an inspiration for his seventh book: a small article in a New York newspaper that reports the murder of a Kansas farm family.
Capote is intrigued. He determines to go to Kansas to write a magazine article on just how a murder in a small town affects residents who — at least until the murders — know and trust their neighbors. He talks Harper into going with him and that's probably a good thing. If she wasn't along, Truman would literally have nobody to talk to. The local DA, Alvin Dewey (Jeff Daniels) repeatedly shuts the door in Truman's face, telling him that no reporters will have special access. Residents categorically refuse to speak with him about the murders.
With the arrival of the holidays, however, Truman and Harper are finally invited to the Dewey home solely so they don't have to be alone for Christmas. In short order — and much against Alvin Dewey's will — Truman proceeds to charm the entire family with his anecdotes about the rich and famous. And with that introduction to local society (such as it is), doors begin to open.
It doesn't take long before Truman realizes he's got the material for much more than a mere magazine article on his hands, and he decides he's going to write a book. Though he argues with Harper about it, he also determines he's going to write his new book in a new style he says will use the techniques of fiction writing to tell a non-fiction story. His ready-made plot only thickens when the accused killers are finally caught.
Dick Hickock (Lee Pace) and Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) are both men with long previous criminal records. Neither bothers to deny involvement in the Clutter family murders, but neither is particularly inclined to talk about that awful night, either. Although both men initially refuse to speak with Truman, he eventually manages to win them over, too, and more and more details about the men, their past, and one night in a Kansas farm house begin to emerge. But so do other things that even Truman finds surprising.
So far, this sounds a whole lot like Capote, doesn't it? After all, the facts don't change! But in this movie, the way the facts are revealed is quite different from last year's movie, and the focus, too, is an alternate one. Infamous spends much more time on Truman's hobnobbing with the rich and famous than did the previous film. It also deals more with his emotions and less with his considerable ego. On-camera interviews with Truman's friends who candidly discuss the man they knew and alternately loved and found exasperating are interspersed with scenes of Truman's efforts to create the book that was to be his masterpiece.
The editing techniques used to illuminate some of the letters sent to Truman by Perry Smith add immeasurably to the very real emotion behind them. And the addition of some humor, particularly near the beginning of the movie, is a nice and effective touch. Douglas McGrath both wrote and directed Infamous based on the book by George Plimpton entitled Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career. The direction was deft, but even more important was a script which was genuinely funny, touching, and so well-crafted that the movie was endlessly fascinating despite the fact we all already know the overall story it tells.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman won a well-deserved Oscar for his portrayal of Truman Capote in Capote. Toby Jones is actually so good in Infamous that he doesn't appear remotely as the lesser actor. Sandra Bullock is just as good as you've heard she is; other members of the supporting cast are also excellent. Along with Bullock, Daniel Craig must be singled out as offering up a truly riveting performance as a killer who embodied both charm and danger, along with tenderness and unspeakable violence in a single persona.
I confess that I was surprised to have liked Infamous as much as I did. I'm not big on seeing most movies more than once, and I feared Infamous would be such a duplication of Capote that that's how I'd feel. I was wrong. Far from being a repeat, Infamous dovetails nicely with Capote. If you loved the first movie, I'd recommend Infamous; if you didn't like Capote, I'd still recommend you give Infamous a look in that it's a surprisingly separate and different film. In short, I'd just plain recommend Infamous.
FAMILY SUITABILITY: Infamous is rated R for "language, violence, and some sexuality." Infamous really isn't a story suited for the young in the first place; the fact that there's a little rough language and a few moments of violence is almost immaterial to that. Intelligent teens — particularly those who've read In Cold Blood — will likely find Infamous of interest, and frankly if they're old enough to have enjoyed the book, they're mature enough to see the movie. Adults, especially those who have an appreciation for well-crafted movies, will also find much to love about Infamous.
Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at firstname.lastname@example.org.