Infamous Movie Review

If the cogs of the movie-making machine are going to keep turning out the exact same movie, why do I have to write up a whole new review?

It's hard to keep an open mind when the synopsis - celebrated author Truman Capote heads to Kansas after a quadruple homicide rocks a rural town, where he becomes obsessed with one of the killers as he pens his book In Cold Blood - perfectly describes not only the new release Infamous, but last year's Capote just as well. To try to look at Infamous in a vacuum is disingenuous at best; no one who will see this movie has not at least heard of the other.

And unfortunately for Infamous, that means it's doomed to be Capote's forgotten sibling: This one is a year later, several Oscar nominations (and one win) shy, and nowhere near as good. On its own, it may not be so bad, but in the scheme of things, it's wholly redundant.

Writer-director Douglas McGrath's version of the story is based on the book Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career and as such features a variety of talking head interviews of his contemporaries -- Gore Vidal, Diana Vreeland, Babe Paley -- attempting to explain the character that was Truman Capote. The device works quite well, but is sadly only used for about 10 minutes or so (it pops up again at the end, but by then it has been downgraded to voice-over treacle).

Infamous starts out quite amusingly, painting a charmingly superficial picture of the high flying New York society scene of which Truman was queen bee. Toby Jones plays Truman as a swishy little troll, a preposterous muppet in human form, and he's entertaining as hell in the role. When Truman heads to Kansas to write about how the town is affected by the murders, it's a pure fish-out-of-water comedy. If it's not enough that Truman is five feet tall with a cartoon voice and an urban sensibility, he shows up with a trousseau and a full-length fur.

But from there on out, McGrath tells not only the exact same story, but in the exact same way as Capote: Truman slowly wins over the town, begins interviewing the two killers, and his obsession with one, Perry Smith (Daniel Craig), leads virtually to his own ruin. And it's not merely that we've seen these characters, this context, this story before; it's that Infamous lays them out in the most straightforward, uncomplicated and uninteresting manner. Perry opening up and talking about his past is not an unveiling, it's a flashback; Truman's obsession is shown, but never explained; all of the story's complexities are ironed out as pat as possible.

And sadly, the salvation is not to be found in the acting. Craig is entirely too...rugged for the part of Perry. His inescapable manliness might be good news to those worried about the fate of the Bond franchise, but it's all wrong here. He displays none of the tenderness that supposedly draws Capote to him. And so much feels like stunt casting - Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee performs as though in a community theatre production of Our Town, and Gwyneth Paltrow has three very long minutes singing on screen as Peggy Lee in a pointless cameo.

It's not all bad - Jones won't get as much credit as Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but he's wonderful as Truman. Hope Davis and Sigourney Weaver are similarly entertaining as socialite swans (Weaver's casting, playing the wife of legendary CBS president William S. Paley, is a charming little in-joke, as Weaver is the real-life daughter of legendary NBC president Pat Weaver).

It's also, clearly, a great story. McGrath may have very much wanted to tell it, but he was beaten to the punch, which should have killed Infamous as extraneous. Because even if the story itself is very intriguing, go rent Capote. Or even better yet, read In Cold Blood. Nothing beats an original.

Shoulda got the Bordeaux.


Infamous Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, 2006


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