Gayer and more entertaining, 2nd helping of Truman dish sure is tasty
Director: Douglas McGrath
Cast: Toby Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Isabella Rossellini, Sandra Bullock and Daniel Craig
Opens Oct. 13 at the Angelika Plano and Landmark’s Magnolia.
1 hr., 58 min. R
If it had come out a year before “Capote” instead of a year after, would “Infamous” have become the definitive film about Truman Capote? For the first hour-and-a-half, I would have said yes. The final half-hour doesn’t hold up as well, but the timing might have been enough to overcome that.
Coming in the wake of the other Truman biopic, “Infamous” isn’t going to erase any memories but it supplements “Capote” in interesting ways. There will be times when it gives you deja vu, but you wont be able to say, “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them both.”
For one thing, this is a much gayer interpretation if that’s possible. There’s more emphasis on Truman the gossip and social butterfly, dropping the names of celebrities in addition to those portrayed as his society friends.
Capote’s partner, novelist Jack Dunphy (John Benjamin Hickey) isn’t very social, “especially not with that crowd,” so Truman (Toby Jones) is often in the company of women: Babe Paley (Sigourney Weaver), wife of the head of CBS; Slim Keith (Hope Davis), Diana Vreeland (Juliet Stevenson), Marella Agnelli (Isabella Rossellini); and especially his friend from childhood, Nelle Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock), who’s about to achieve her girlish dream of being “the Jane Austen of Alabama.”
There’s no suggestion of Lee being lesbian in this version, but neither is there evidence to the contrary. She wears the pants in her relationship with Truman, but so would Paris Hilton.
In the opening scene, Truman and Babe are at El Morocco, where Gwyneth Paltrow as “Kitty Dean” (think Peggy Lee, who is apparently too litigious even in death to be identified) gives the most dramatic performance in screen history of a song intended to be in the background.
Cut to Nov. 16, 1959, the literary equivalent of 9/11. That’s when Truman reads an item in the Times about a mass murder in Kansas. Determined to write a story for the New Yorker, he investigates “how a crime like this affects a little town where everybody trusts each other.”
Soon Truman and Nelle are off to Holcomb, Kan., and sparring with the locals especially Alvin Dewey (Jeff Daniels), who heads the police investigation.
The gag about people thinking Truman’s a woman, even though Nelle tells him to tone it down a notch, is run into the ground before a combination of connections and his peculiar charm gains the writer the access he needs.
“I know I’m not Charles Atlas,” Capote moans, “but even Ethel Merman doesn’t have this [stubble].”
Nelle replies, “No, hers is thicker.”
How gay can you get?
Though “not Charles Atlas,” Truman does have some skill at arm wrestling.
“When you’re tiny,” he explains, “you have to be tough.”
When the confessed killers are brought back to stand trial, Truman practically moves into their cells with them. Dick Hickock (Lee Pace) is the first to open up to him, but Capote expends so much energy on Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) that they form a deeper, more complex relationship. Smith’s parents were rodeo riders: The last person he’s close to is a writer of the purple prose.
That’s where “Infamous” runs into trouble.
While “Capote” insinuated that the author had found Smith attractive, “Infamous” insists on making the attraction mutual and having the men act on it to some extent. This stretches credulity and comes off like a gay prison-fantasy. But because Capote tells so many lies to get Smith to cooperate, we’re never sure whether his feelings are genuine.
A crisis arises when Smith learns the title of what has grown from an article into a book. But Capote quells it, explaining that “In Cold Blood” refers to the punishment as well as the crime. Was the writer himself more hot-blooded, as portrayed here, or cold-blooded as shown in “Capote”?
Lest the film’s final portion get too intense, there are occasional side trips to New York for comments from talking heads or to see Truman reporting to his friends on events in Kansas.
The little-known (in the U.S.) Toby Jones does everything right as Capote including the voice Gore Vidal describes as “what a Brussels sprout would sound like if a Brussels sprout could talk.” But Jones isn’t required to be as nuanced as Philip Seymour Hoffman. Jones could be our Capote, if we didn’t already have one (two, if you count the original).
An ironic side effect of “Infamous” is that seeing Daniel Craig with dark hair, albeit speaking in a gruff, American working-class voice, it becomes easier to imagine him as James Bond.
“In Cold Blood” was, as Capote intended, “a new kind of reportage.”
“Infamous” represents an age-old form of movie reportage: biography as entertainment rather than history. Inquiring minds will want to see it for the dish.
A second screen biography of Truman Capote wasn’t necessary especially in such short a time span. But neither is it unwelcome.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, October 13, 2006.
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