For those who missed the 2005 picture Capote, it will be very difficult to find anything wrong with Infamous, the bigger budget, all-star retelling of Truman Capote’s life as he created his famed work, In Cold Blood. But as the Yankees have taught us lately, bigger budget doesn’t necessarily mean better, and those who have the basis for comparison might be a little disappointed. Still, the standout performances from Toby Jones and Sandra Bullock make Infamous worth a try, even if only to say, “I’ve seen better.”
The first act of Infamous sets up Truman Capote as a foppish socialite who lives to gossip with his elite companions in 1959 New York City. There are more bold-faced names in this movie than on Gawker, each taking on the role of a cigarette wielding, scandal attracting, bold-faced name from the past. The fluffy tone continues even as Capote convinces his close friend Nelle Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock) to join him in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas to chronicle reactions to the gruesome murder of a family of four. There, Capote gives new meaning to the phrase “fish out of water,” as his frivolous lifestyle and squeaky voice baffle the townspeople, who incidentally also assume that he is a woman. A little name-dropping goes a long way though, and Capote charms his way into their hearts with tales of arm-wrestling Humphrey Bogart. The movie is well on its way before the murderers are captured and Capote has his first interview with Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) and Dick Hickock (Lee Pace). At that point, it basically picks up the plotline from the 2005 film, chronicling the intense relationship that developed between Smith and Capote as Capote tried to shed some humanity on Perry’s infamous crime.
While Philip Seymour Hoffman managed to capture the emotional center of Truman Capote without quite evoking the real persona, Toby Jones could have been the man himself, right down to the squeaky voice. He is particularly convincing as he struts around town in a fur coat lamenting that the only cheese in the local market is Velveeta. But the true standout performance comes from Sandra Bullock, a sentence I never thought I would say, but it’s true. Her subtle rendition of Nelle Harper Lee was amazing, and even more amazing was how she managed to hold her southern accent the entire film - which we certainly can’t say for The Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The rest of the acting is solid, but unfortunately the film suffers from a series of miscasts that take away from the authenticity of the re-telling. Though Daniel Craig gives a quality performance as Perry, he feels too butch and old to play the baby faced murderer, but we forgive him because he will probably be the best Bond ever.
The film takes a more physical stance on the relationship between Perry and Capote, but fails in the end to capture the emotional ties between them that were so poignant in the 2005 film. Ultimately, while you have the tragic sense that the book that catapulted Capote to stardom also destroyed him, it is mostly from the documentary style talking heads telling you so, rather than grasping it from the performances themselves. In the end, the filmmakers broke the 9th grade English cardinal rule of “show don’t tell.”
Though the film can’t escape comparison to its predecessor, it’s not as if we’re talking about Armageddon versus Deep Impact here. Both films boast stellar performances with a subject matter that is compelling no matter how many times you see it. With a brighter more stylized set and a deeper look into Capote’s lifestyle, there is no doubt that Infamous stands well on its own, and some may even prefer it, after all, many people preferred Armageddon.