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Dustin Putman

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Learn more about this film on IMDb!Infamous  (2006)
3 Stars
Directed by Douglas McGrath
Cast: Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Daniel Craig, Lee Pace, Peter Bogdanovich, Jeff Daniels, Sigourney Weaver, Hope Davis, Isabella Rossellini, Juliet Stevenson, Gwyneth Paltrow, John Benjamin Hickey, Joey Basham, Brent McCoy, Morgan Farris, Zachary Burnett, Brady Hender, Michael Panes, Leticia Trejo, Lee Ritchey, Katherine Willis
2006 – 118 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for language, violence and some sexuality).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 12, 2006.
Based on the book "Truman Capote" by George Plimpton, "Infamous" chronicles the experiences of the legendary writer and socialite as he researches the violent murder of a family in Kansas, circa 1959, for a book to be called "In Cold Blood." If this sounds like familiar turf for a cinematic adaptation, that's because it is. Almost one year to the day of this film's release, "Capote" arrived in theaters to critical acclaim and particular accolades for the brilliant Oscar-winning title performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Both pictures lay claim to different source material, and "Infamous" was already in production before "Capote" came out, but it's difficult to see this newer production without comparing it to the former. As similar as they are in many ways, however, they are also quite different in their tone, their viewpoint, and their ultimate impact on the viewer. Whereas "Capote" was cold and atmospheric and almost surgical in its storytelling, "Infamous" is told in a more accessible and emotionally gratifying manner.

Toby Jones (2004's "Finding Neverland") is amazing in his portrayal of writer Truman Capote, a gossip whore and master of stories whose infectious personality makes him the star attraction of Manhattan's upper crust. When Truman happens upon an article in the newspaper about a Kansas family mysteriously shot to death in their farmhouse, it jump-starts his drive to pen a book about it. With frequent companion and "To Kill a Mockingbird" author Nelle Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock) by his side, Truman travels to the lonely Midwest town where the murders took place and begins his investigation.

Originally planning to write a book about the true horror inherent in a seemingly random and brutal crime occurring in the thought-to-be peaceful Kansas countryside, he must revise his angle once the killers—Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) and Dick Hickock (Lee Pace)—are apprehended and locked up. As the suspects await their trial, Truman edges his way inside their jail cells and begins interviewing them in an attempt to humanize what many people believe to be monsters. When Truman becomes more involved with his subjects, he finds himself torn between hoping for the worst—the death penalty—at the betterment of his book, and fearing for the fates of two men he has come to care about.

Directed by Douglas McGrath (2002's "Nicholas Nickleby"), "Infamous" is lighter and more comical at its onset than the overall very serious "Capote" ever was. This humor is a necessary layer that opens up Truman Capote as a person, in all of his buzzy, proudly effeminate and constantly fascinating glory, and in return allows the viewer to willingly invest in his journey toward compiling information for "In Cold Blood." There are a few big laughs to be had in the first act, as the big city's Truman mixes in a fish-out-of-water manner with the small town locals. Set in the late-'50s, the film's attention to these people's reactions to this eccentric personality are humorous because they are so honest. Meanwhile, first-person accounts by Truman's friends and confidantes, who are also seen interacting with him in the story proper, are interspersed with the driving plotline as a useful means of giving a richer, rounder sense of who this famed and adored man was both when he was working and when he was off-duty.

The heart of the story is the relationship that materializes between Truman and Perry during his visits to the prison. Perry is initially reluctant to talk to Truman, afraid that his book will misrepresent who he is, but before long they are opening up to each other about their painful childhoods and bonding over similar past experiences. As the question of how a seemingly learned and even-keeled young man was driven to commit such a heinous crime comes closer to the surface, so does the love born from Truman and Perry's time together. The heavy suggestion that there was a romantic entanglement between these two extremely different men may take some dramatic license, but it works within the story and, just as Truman aims to do in his writings, transforms Perry from cold-blooded killer into a sympathetic human being plagued by actions and regrets he can never take back.

Toby Jones' take on Truman Capote isn't a mimic of Philip Seymour Hoffman's, nor an empty impersonation of the real man. His performance is also no better or worse than Hoffman's—high praise, indeed, considering Hoffman's turn was revelatory. What can be said is that Jones plays Truman with a broader look, physicality and personality that nevertheless avoids falling into camp. There is a warmth and entertainment value to Jones that is irresistible even when his own bigheaded narcissism gets the best of him, and also a poignancy in the later scenes as he must say good-bye to far more than just the subject of his book.

As patient and devotional friend Nelle Harper Lee, Sandra Bullock (2006's "The Lake House") essays the part previously played by Catherine Keener in "Capote." Bullock disappears into the part, playing things naturally and in a low key that makes her humor all the more deliciously dry. It's a great performance, with the only reservation being that Bullock disappears for too long of periods in the movie's second half. As Perry Smith, Daniel Craig (2005's "Munich") is a powerful onscreen force whose character's inscrutability early on eventually breaks down as he is drawn to Truman's interest in him. In nicely flavored supporting roles, Hope Davis (2005's "The Matador") and Sigourney Weaver (2004's "The Village") make an impression as Truman's high society pals Slim Keith and Babe Paley, and Gwyneth Paltrow (2005's "Proof") is stunning as a mournful lounge singer who speaks volumes about life and loss solely through her voice and facial expressions.

"Capote" was a solid and moody biopic about Truman Capote's days during the writing process of "In Cold Blood." "Infamous" isn't quite so tonally dark, but in many ways is the more provocative and unshakable of the two films. Here, writer-director Douglas McGrath thought-provokingly suggests that Truman never was able to completely get over the death of Perry Smith, and it was this life-changing relationship that kept him in successive years from being able to give over his soul to write another book. No matter which motion picture one prefers, it is best to think of "Infamous" and "Capote" as companion pieces that, through differing points-of-view, can effectively compliment each other and uncover fresh ideas despite spinning the same tale.
© 2006 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman