November 16, 2006

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Infamous (R)
Toby Jones plays the other Truman Capote, who finds himself attracted to the other Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) in Infamous, the other movie about Capote during his creation of In Cold Blood.

I would not have picked this period in American literary history as one needing two movies to thoroughly explain it. But Jones' Capote is truly different from Philip Seymour Hoffman's Capote (as played in 2005's Capote). Where Hoffman was more the dissociated, detached artist, a man who was completely selfish and whose whole self was tied up in his work, Jones shows more of Capote's emotional side, his need to connect with people and his ability to use emotional connections to get what he wants from them. Capote was a character study, one that looked at the particular, peculiar character of the writer. Infamous is a sudsier affair, one that gives the True Hollywood Story-type treatment to a personality, giving respect to his artist side but not allowing it to eclipse the man who feels he must "act like a little wind-up toy" to win affection.

I give, two Capote movies, you win. You are needed.

Capote is a smaller, more flamboyant man here who spends his days romancing the swans society women who are bored and lonely and find Capote a charming companion and a fascinating fixture at their dinner parties. He has women like Babe Paley (Sigourney Weaver), the wife of CBS's head, and Slim Keith (Hope Davis) wrapped around his finger. Capote's desire for this kind of social wealth is off-putting to his long-time boyfriend Jack (John Benjamin Hickey) and his only truly grounding influence is Nelle Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock), a friend from childhood.

It's Nelle he takes with him to Kansas when, after reading about the violent death of the Cutter family in a small town, he decides to travel to Holcomb to write a story for the New Yorker. She's a wise choice as her simple kindness and her unadorned decency help to moderate Capote's pelican-amongst-pigeons appearance and manners. Eventually, he finds that the way in to Holcomb is through the wife (Bethlyn Gerard) of the local sheriff (Jeff Daniels). Capote spins tales of Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner and finds himself just as prized by the wives of Holcomb as he was by the wives of Park Avenue. As he builds his story (originally a New Yorker article), he pictures the tale of a town where a sense of community has been replaced by fear and suspicion.

And then the killers are found.

Dick Hickock (Lee Pace) and Perry Smith (Craig) appear as street toughs out of any 1960s movie. Dick isn't a bit sorry about what has happened the Cutters' deaths are merely side effects of an abortive attempt to steal a nonexistent $10,000 from a nonexistent safe. Perry, however, is a man beset by anguish. The anguish of not having his father's love, the anguish of a mother and sibling dead from suicide, the anguish of wanting to be a musician or an artist something that would win him universal love. Perry is just the kind of sexually confused, emotionally crippled, intellectually striving ball of suffering ripe for Capote's manipulation.

The relationship between Capote and Perry here is even deeper, even darker than the one suggested in Capote. Perry finds in Capote both a reflection of his own emotions and an example of the man he would have liked to be. Capote sees in Perry, well, who knows? A character? A darker image of himself? A romantic, untouchable Heathcliff? I'm sure that last comparison would have Capote rolling his eyes and exclaiming to his society friends how utterly mundane it makes his life sound. Well, perhaps. But even his fluffy fur coats and his flamboyant-before-its-time personality don't hide some cliche melodramatic tendencies.

Heightening these tabloidier aspects of Capote's life is the movie's structure, which mixes straight narrative with "interviews" with Capote's friends. Nelle's comments (fittingly) are the most insightful and even give us glimpses into her own quiet emotions. I shock myself when I say this Sandra Bullock is a very good Harper Lee. As with Jones' Capote, her Lee is one that is both different from and as interesting as Catherine Keener's Lee. She gives us a sidekick who helps Capote in his work and a look at a woman both successful and vexed in her own literary aspirations. After seeing Bullock's approach to Lee serene and knowing and anxious I actually want to see more of her, perhaps even an entire movie about Bullock's Lee.

I know!

Infamous ably counters the skeptics who believed there was no room for a second movie on this time in Capote's life. A-

Rated R for language, violence and some sexuality. Directed by Douglas McGrath and written by McGrath and George Plimpton, Infamous is nearly two hours long and is distributed by Warner Independent Pictures in limited release.

Amy Diaz