Monday, March 12, 2007


Deja Tru

By Edward Copeland
Poor Douglas McGrath. Taking an oral history of Truman Capote's life by George Plimpton as his starting point, he set out to make a movie that focused on Capote writing In Cold Blood. Unfortunately, there was another little movie called Capote about the same time period percolating and it managed to get to a boil faster and earned its star, Philip Seymour Hoffman, a well-deserved Oscar for best actor. McGrath's version, Infamous, came out the following year and was inevitably compared to the much-lauded earlier version. It's a shame because while both movies are good, Infamous actually is the better of the two.

In Infamous, the role of the famous writer/social gadfly goes to British actor Toby Jones. It's a tough call on who wins the Capote battle between Jones and Hoffman. Jones certainly looks the part more than Hoffman and his imitation really is a more accurate one, but I think Hoffman gets underneath Truman's skin a bit more.

Still, Infamous as a movie is better than Capote. While Capote tugged more emotionally, Infamous has sharper writing, more wit and though I liked Clifton Collins Jr. as killer Perry Smith, I think Daniel Craig's portrayal in Infamous is vastly superior.

Collins played the killer too softly and with too much delicacy. Craig makes Perry a hardened killer without sacrificing his character's complexity or making it difficult to see how Capote falls for him. To see the same basic story told in two different ways in such close proximity to each other actually is quite fascinating.

Whereas Capote used such washed-out color that it almost appeared black and white, Infamous embraces color vibrantly, only slowly washing out the images as the film turns darker. It also benefits by the inclusion of "testimonials" by people playing figures in Capote's life such as Diana Vreeland (Juliet Stevenson), Babe Paley (Sigourney Weaver) and Bennett Cerf (Peter Bogdanovich).

Of course, there is one other pair of performances to compare: The battle of the Harper Lees, and I think Catherine Keener in Capote bests Sandra Bullock in Infamous, if only because her role seemed more fleshed out in the first film and Keener didn't try to tack on a Southern accent.

While I think I might give a slight edge to Hoffman's portrayal, this is no slight to Jones, who really should have been considered for this year's best actor prize. Still, I was pleasantly surprised by how much more I enjoyed Infamous than Capote. Though it's been more than a year since I've seen Capote, Infamous to me seems to paint more clearly the slow unraveling of Truman Capote the man than the earlier film did.

In a way, it's like the tortoise vs. the hare except, unfortunately, in the film industry, it's nearly impossible for the tortoise to prevail. One thing this double-barrelled look at this period in time has accomplished, at least for me, is a desire to re-read In Cold Blood.

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I liked Capote very much but haven't seen Infamous as yet. Two films about Truman - how Gore Vidal must be sitting at home frothing at the mouth.
Fascinating post, Ed. Good job. What's interesting is that I myself just finished watching Infamous (which I enjoyed) and was plannng to write a blog very similar to yours (in which I compare and contrast the two films). First I wanted to re-visit Capote again as I have not seen it since its theatrical run. If my opinion of it doesn't change, however, I suspect I'm going to come down on the side that although Infamous is a good film, Capote is a great film.
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