Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Daniel Craig, Jeff Daniels
Douglas McGrath, George Plimpton
|What's up with all this box-office clutter?
You think it's rough seeing a new version of "Saw" every Halloween? Try seeing the same storyline about author Truman Capote, the ill-fated Clutter family and "In Cold Blood" two years in a row.
The 2006 version of the Truman Capote story is "Infamous," written and directed by Douglas McGrath based upon George Plimpton's "Truman Capote," a film that is more emotionally resonant yet ultimately less satisfying than its predecessor, last year's "Capote."
Film Critic James Berardinelli noted in his review of "Infamous" that Hoffman "managed to exhibit Capote's eccentricities without turning the man into a caricature." Hoffman's performance was nothing short of masterful in its understated, refined approach to the often larger-than-life Truman Capote. It was an intelligent, calculated and emotionally distant interpretation of Truman Capote. In "Infamous," Toby Jones gives us the Truman Capote we all knew, loved and laughed at. Is it necessarily an inaccurate performance? Not really. It just feels incomplete, less complex and, ultimately, more caricaturish than Hoffman's performance. On a certain level, the fact that Jones offers a greater emotional variance is tremendously satisfying. Because "Infamous" is, however, a film with a deeper emotional care Jones's histrionics at times become more a distraction than an attraction. It is a good performance that will always be in the shadow of a truly great performance.
Where McGrath really scores with "Infamous" is with a touch, quite honestly, that "Capote" lacked and I believe kept it from truly being a perfect film...an emotional core. "Infamous," at times is painful, frightening, funny and tragic. Whereas "Capote" offered an almost sterile examination of these events, "Infamous" gets to the heart of the matter.
This is the slaughter of a Midwestern family, after all.
"Infamous" begins in 1959. First, the film begins with an emotional, yet purposeless, appearance of Gwyneth Paltrow as a night club singer in the midst of an emotional, clearly troubling performance. While it seems as if this is used to build an emotional bridge to Truman, it's an odd choice as this singer is never again referenced or seen. Then, Truman Capote reads about the slaughter of the Clutter family, and instantly becomes intrigued by the story. He convinces his closest friend, Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock), to accompany him on a trip to Kansas. Truman, used to winning over everyone with his outgoing charm, is initially unable to get access to the crime's files from the prosecutor, Alvin Dewey (Jeff Daniels). This storyline, again, plays almost as a mirror to "Capote," with the exception that "Infamous" turns up the "flame" considerably.
"Infamous" is essentially the same exact story as "Capote" told with more emotion, different staging and more emotional peaks and valleys. For many, "Infamous" will be much more satisfying. It requires less work from the audience. McGrath rather clearly spells out Capote's foibles, manipulations, weaknesses and emotions. There's really no guesswork involved in figuring out motivations, intentions and underlying reasons for anyone's actions. It's all quite obvious.
"Capote," on the other hand, didn't make all the decisions for the audience. Motivations and intentions were always in doubt. It didn't really show sympathy for any of its characters, but neither did it judge them. "Infamous" is far more pointed in its approach.
It's interesting to note the considerable star power present in "Infamous," down to the most minor of roles. It is intriguing to me what so many "A" and "B" list celebrities saw in this script that attracted them to it, while indie faves Hoffman and Catherine Keener dominated "Capote."
With a deeper and more emotionally charged performance than Keener's Oscar-nominated performance, Sandra Bullock brings home the fact that her unexpectedly strong performance in "Crash" wasn't a fluke. After years of romantic fluff, Bullock offers a multi-layered yet subdued performance as Harper Lee that is most definitely deserving of an Oscar nomination.
The film's strongest performance, rather surprisingly, is by that soon to be Bond, Daniel Craig as Perry Smith, a cold-blooded killer who becomes both the object of Capote's attention and affection. Craig, who seems an odd choice as he doesn't remotely resemble Smith, nonetheless offers a brilliant, driven and award-worthy performance that is nothing short of mesmerizing. The fact that he will offer this performance AND James Bond in the same year is, quite simply, astounding. As in "Capote," the role of Dick Hickock (Lee Pace), the other killer, is a minor weak spot for the film.
Jeff Daniels is, well, Jeff Daniels as prosecuter Dewey. While his transition from resistance of Capote to being charmed by Capote feels just a bit rushed, Daniels offers his usual dependable performance.
The other supporting roles often play more like celebrity cameos. They are often shot as if the "celebrities" are being interviewed after Truman's death. This approach is effective at times, especially when used with Sandra Bullock's Lee, but other times it's almost laughably histrionic (Juliet Stevenson's Diana Vreeland). Other celebrity friends of Truman's show up including Babe Paley (Sigourney Weaver), Slim Keith (Hope Davis), Bennet Cerf (Peter Bogdanovich) and a few others along the way.
The film's production values are comparable to "Capote," though feel a bit more fleshed out. The film's score, by Rachel Portman, is a tad annoying, however, it does serve to further the film's intensity at times.
"Infamous" is, in the end, the more audience-friendly version of the "Capote" story, however, it's likely to not offer enough variation from "Capote" to get audiences back in the seats again. It's a film you won't regret seeing, though you'll leave the theatre going "Didn't I just see this film last year?"
Yes, actually you did.
|© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic