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September 15, 2006

While watching Douglas McGrath’s “Infamous”, it’s impossible not to think of Bennett Miller’s “Capote”. The film will ultimately struggle to not be considered “the other Truman Capote film”. Yet that’s uncalled for. “Infamous” is certainly the more ambitious of the two films and while it’s ultimately not as successful, it still works quite well on its own terms, being both entertaining and insightful.

McGrath’s film certainly takes a more intimate look at the glitzy social world that defined Capote while he was alive. His "swans" enliven the movie and his relationships with them help build his character, as all these shallow people feed off each other. There’s nothing here that Sigorney Weaver, Isabella Rossellini and Hope Davis couldn’t do in their sleep but it’s still great to see them charm as they do. The New York scenes in the movie are in general quite fun.

The film’s use of testimonials to tell its story serves the narrative well and is certainly entertaining. But this is not “Reds”. It feels a tad cheap that McGrath uses this technique to convey what really ought to be put in the narrative.

Toby Jones’ take on Truman Capote is impressive indeed (he received a standing ovation after the film). He never loses his voice and mannerisms while also managing to guide Capote through a true character arc in a very entertaining manner. The work will undoubtedly be compared to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar-winning take on the same character. I personally find Hoffman's work much more impressive, as his film asks more of him, yet this British character actor gives a star turn I never would have suspected of him.

The film’s shift to Kansas is a crucial one and the process of Truman coming to know the townsfolk is very well told and actually quite funny (I must give a special shout out to the use of Velveeta cheese).

Daniel Craig’s take on Perry Smith begins unconvincingly yet improves as the film moves along. The relationship between Truman and Perry is in many ways the most interesting aspect of the film, if it doesn’t always work. The primary source of knowledge about Perry Smith is “In Cold Blood” itself and the interpretation that McGrath reaches for is a questionable one in the opinion of this viewer. I, for one, would have much preferred a more subtle approach to their relationship with the viewer being able to make his or her own interpretation. Though I will give credit to the use of Smith’s opinions on Capote’s literary work in serving the film as a whole.

The film shifts focus, becoming more dark and tragic. The shift from the earlier, glitzy part of the film isn’t flawless, if smooth enough. The ultimately tragedy is certainly felt. The execution scene is one of the best of the year, especially in regards to the role a doctor plays (which I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen the film) and the haunting cutting to Truman listening to a song. Yet while this is compelling and powerful, McGrath ultimately makes the decision to explicitly tell us what the tragedy of Truman is. Was this really necessary?

Sandra Bullock is given some of the film’s best dialogue; it’s too bad her accent work is so bad. The performance will suffer in comparison to Keener’s but after this and “Crash”, expect her career to go in different places. Gwyneth Paltrow, meanwhile, in just one scene, is absolutely superb. She sings, she cries, she captivates…and she brings us into the world of the New York socialite.

The film *looks* fabulous. As always, Ruth Myers does amazing costuming for McGrath, not only fashioning memorable threads appropriate to the period but also making the costumes expressions of the characters. Judy Becker’s production design also serves the story exquisitely.

Ultimately, “Infamous” mostly succeeds on its own terms, offering insight into the person of Capote and being an intriguing, engaging and entertaining film. It’s not perfect but it doesn’t deserve to be lost. So here’s hoping it doesn’t end up with such a fate.


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