- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

When writer-director Douglas McGrath decided to make a movie about the years author Truman Capote spent researching and writing “In Cold Blood,” he believed he had a great story to tell. Unfortunately for him, screenwriter Dan Futterman was having the exact same thought.

It was 2003 when Mr. McGrath learned of Mr. Futterman’s project, and a year later, Mr. Futterman’s “Capote” was well under way while Mr. McGrath’s film was just beginning. At his studio’s urging, Mr. McGrath held the release of his Capote biopic, then watched as its counterpart dazzled critics and snapped up several film awards in 2005, including Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Oscar win for best actor.

So “Infamous” has some big shoes and theaters to fill.

Luckily for audiences, though, each film paints a very different picture from the same story line: New York City author-socialite and raconteur Truman Capote goes to Kansas to write about the gruesome murders of a farmer and his family — bringing with him friend and fellow writer Harper Lee — and ends up inextricably linked to the killers through his research

But where “Capote” was subtle and stark, “Infamous” is garish and theatrical. Where Mr. Futterman saw gravity, Mr. McGrath sees comedy — or, at the very least, a comedic drama.

“Infamous” was inspired by George Plimpton’s biography, “Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career,” and makes use of its confessional, tell-all format.

Throughout the film, a multitude of characters weigh in on the author. Gore Vidal, for example, describes Mr. Capote’s unique little voice as “what a brussels sprout would sound like if a brussels sprout could talk.” In this colorful portrait, Mr. Capote (played by British actor Toby Jones) isn’t just eccentric and slightly effeminate, he’s nearly as flamboyant as the prancing Jack McFarland from “Will & Grace.” The Southern-born writer has a penchant for outlandish clothing and gossiping with the girls. In one scene, he even gushes about how football huddles send shivers up his spine.

No wonder he keeps getting mistaken for a woman.

The foil to his over-the-top behavior comes by way of his reserved research companion and childhood friend, Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock). The actress may be a bit difficult to warm up to (blame it on “Miss Congeniality”), but once her sweet, soft-spoken Southern drawl gets under your skin, she’s a joy.

The film’s weight comes from Mr. Capote’s relationship with the murderers he’s profiling, Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) and Dick Hickock (Lee Pace), and his conflicting desires to serve both his readers and the two men. However, because “Infamous” delves so deeply into Mr. Capote’s lavish New York City lifestyle — and the resulting fish-out-of-water phenomenon when he hits Kansas— these intimate moments feel rushed, even a bit tabloidal.

What surfaced in real life and in the previous Capote movie as an ostensibly latent sexual tension between the writer and Smith steams right to the surface in several “Infamous” scenes, including one where Mr. Capote blows onto Smith’s face to relax him and another where the two make out. (A dream, we suppose?)

In the end, “Infamous” is a very good film that’s well acted, particularly by Miss Bullock and Mr. Jones. But it’s too bad that “Capote” came out first. Like “In Cold Blood,” the Mr. Capote’s true-crime masterpiece and last great work, greatness is difficult to top, particularly in the public’s eye. Sometimes, it’s even crippling.

**1/2

TITLE: “Infamous”

CREDITS: Written and directed by Douglas McGrath. Based on the book by George Plimpton.

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes

WEB SITE: https://wip.warnerbros.com/infamous/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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