Infamous (2006)

Director: Douglas McGraph

Stars: Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Peter Bogdanovich, Jeff Daniels, Sigourney Weaver, Isabella Rossellini

Release Company: Warner Independentt Pictures

MPAA Rating: R

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Infamous
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Occasionally film projects have the misfortune of being made. Such is the case for Infamous, held back a year to avoid associating it with Capote. But since Douglas McGraph's film covers exactly the same time period and material, comparisons are inevitable. The timing couldn't be worse; Infamous would have fared better had it been the earlier release, to serve as introductory material. The generic bio-pic unfolds like a limp-wristed sister to Bennett Miller's superior film. It's like going to see a high school production of Twelfth Night after seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company put it on.

McGraph holds the audience at a distance from its central character, all the more emphasized by interrupting frequently with documentary-style "talking head" inserts to tell us about Truman Capote rather than revealing him. British actor Toby Jones admirably captures Capote's physical appearance, grand gestures, and unique voice, but his portrayal contains no soul. Sketching in a light-hearted Capote caricature with lots of anecdotes and slipping easily into Capote's tacky fur coat, Jones never truly inhabits Capote's skin. The acting only strives for impersonation, and that goes for most of the supporting cast.

Surprisingly, only Sandra Bullock's portrayal of Harper Lee has a real human moment--when expressing her frustrations about being unable to get going on a follow-up novel to To Kill a Mockingbird. Most others are window dressing to capture a sense of the famous Manhattan circle that made Capote such a celebrity: Peter Bogdanovich as Bennett Cerf, Isabella Rossellini as Marella Agnelli, Sigourney Weaver as Babe Paley, and Hope Davis as Slim Keith. The Kansas locals are dutifully cast to advance the simple plot and blend in with the small town scenery, with only Jeff Daniels (as detective Alvin Dewey) distinguishing himself.

Since Miller's film intimately delves into the darker side of Capote, what's left for McGraph? Although the screenplay is based on George Plimpton's book (instead of Gerald Clarke's), it still covers the same territory—the pivotal period beginning with Truman Capote's research for In Cold Blood, an account of the brutal murder of a Kansas family that made Capote the most renowned writer in America while simultaneously destroying his personal life. McGraph goes for sight gags and sit-com, playing on Capote's famous flamboyance. Locals are shocked at his swishy mannerisms and continually mistake him for a woman when hearing only his voice. Detective Dewey refuses to grant access until Capote drops a slew of celebrity acquaintances and boasts how he once bested Humphrey Bogart at arm wrestling.

McGraph also "clarifies" any ambiguities about Capote's sexual preference, especially with an off-the-wall prison cell lip lock with murderer Perry Smith (Daniel Craig). Perhaps unsophisticated viewers need such a heavy-handed approach, but the entire relationship between the two men just doesn't work on screen. The written indicators are far more convincing—how Perry wrote "friend Truman" twice weekly throughout his sentence, along with Capote's passages describing Perry's sensitive, artistic side. Much of the problem lies with McGraph's serious miscasting of Craig. The surly, macho prisoner towers over the diminutive writer and readily springs into believable rages, but he has extreme difficulty slipping into a more pensive, responsive mood. Capote simply never could have fallen in love with such a man. The actor playing the other murderer (Lee Pace) seems a more likely lover.

Had Bennett Miller never made Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman providing a definitive portrait of the heavily conflicted writer, Infamous would contain some interest. Sadly that is not the case, so Douglas McGrath's ill-fated film feels like a wasted two hours in the theater. Without depth and without revealing anything other than the trivial and obvious, the film comes across as a soulless extended sketch. A far more interesting story could have developed from Harper Lee's frustrations or from Peggy Lee's (Gwyneth Paltrow) faltering on-stage rendition of "What Is This Thing Called Love?" Those are the only two "human" moments I can recall from the film--and that just shouldn't be the case whenever Truman Capote occupies the same space.

Warner Brothers should look into hammering out a deal with Sony Classics to package Infamous as an extra feature in an upcoming special edition DVD of the stronger film. Otherwise, McGraph's insubstantial project will only collect dust—deservedly so. Bookmark and Share

 


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