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Infamous’ a solid but unspectacular biopic

Cassie Belek | Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It is impossible not to compare “Infamous” to last year’s Academy Award Best Picture nominee “Capote.” The two films capture the life of notorious author Truman Capote as he investigates the horrific 1959 murders of the Clutters – a farming family from Holcomb, Kan. “Capote” ultimately portrays the “In Cold Blood” author as a small and unlikable man who darkly struggles with his desire to have the perfect ending to his story, knowing that his friend Perry – a Clutter murderer – will be put to death. “Infamous” attempts to do the same, but the result is merely “Capote”-Lite.

“Infamous,” directed by Douglas McGrath and starring Toby Jones as Capote, advertises a different view of the socialite author, a view that comes in the form of juicy gossip and glamorous gatherings among Capote’s group of New York friends. Besides exploring Capote’s more social side, the movie offers little variation from “Capote.” Several scenes are even remarkably similar. In general, though, “Infamous” is glossier and glitzier – at least in its New York scenes.

It is no fault of the filmmakers that it bears resemblance to “Capote.” Both films were shot at the same time, but “Infamous” was simply pushed back when “Capote” started to garner award season buzz.

When set apart from “Capote,” “Infamous” is a solid biopic about the life of Truman Capote and the relationships he held with the people in his life. Each relationship offers insight into Capote’s complete character. We see his complicated and sometimes distant relationship with his lover Jack Dunphy (John Benjamin Hickey) at odds with his ever growing closeness to sensitive murderer Perry Smith (Daniel Craig). His superficial friendships with New York socialites played by Sigourney Weaver and Hope Davis demonstrate his conceited love for gossip and a glamorous lifestyle. In contrast, his relationship with childhood best friend Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock) is genuine. We see the realness of their relationship when Capote has lunch with her in a frumpy diner and invites her rather than the others to go to Holcomb with him.

Jones convincingly portrays Capote with the nasal voice and flamboyant dress and mannerisms. Bullock delivers a notable performance as the “To Kill a Mockingbird” author, but has little to draw from since Lee has lived a private life.

An out of place but exceptional performance comes from Gwyneth Paltrow as lounge singer Kitty Dean. She appears in the film’s opening scene, singing a song that hits too close to home and bringing the room to a halt as she loses composure only to recover and gloriously finish her number. Paltrow’s short presence can perhaps be explained by her starring role in McGrath’s 1996 directorial debut “Emma.”

While insightful, “Infamous” tends to shy away from the darkness it could succumb to. We are given a more lighthearted vision of Capote’s time spent in Kansas. More time is spent focusing on the lack of imported cheeses at the Holcomb grocery store and Christmas Day at the Dewey house than conversations with Holcomb residents about the Clutter murders and their feelings toward the murderers. For this information, audiences will need to read the novel “In Cold Blood” instead of relying on a motion picture to complete the entire story.

While “Infamous” offers a few variations from 2005’s “Capote,” it may not fill the need to view both films. “Infamous” dishes more gossip about Capote’s personal life and slightly portrays the effect that writing “In Cold Blood” had on Truman Capote. We see a morose Capote drinking more, but still embellishing stories to feed to the gossip hounds. In the end, “Infamous” provides another piece of the Capote puzzle, but fails to solve it.