INFAMOUS

R

-By Doris Toumarkine


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What an act to follow, many of those involved in this production and upscale audiences ready for another dose of Capote have to be thinking. Not only was Philip Seymour Hoffman's eponymous and Oscar-winning interpretation brilliant, last year's Capote delivered the kind of high quality that gives art-house fare its reputation and secures its name. Yet, while handicapped by its predecessor, filmmaker Doug McGrath's Infamous delivers, and should attract a decent chunk of those who made Capote one of 2005's biggest and most critically acclaimed specialized hits.

Fair or not fair, the big question on many minds will be: So how does British stage and film actor Toby Jones as Capote measure up to Hoffman's star turn? Jones, a good enough likeness, mostly slips in but sometimes slips out of the character. When he's on, his ability to capture Capote's unique voice and physical business serves the film well. But when Jones is off, he jars, missing the preciousness, assurance and eccentricity that marked the author, at least in his public persona.

Infamous matches the time period of Capote--from 1959, when the writer caught the item about the Clutter family murders and began his own investigation for a book, through the stunning success of In Cold Blood and the impact it had on the writer, his career and his circle of swells. Again, we follow Capote and dear friend Nelle Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock) on the investigative journey to rural Kansas where Capote--a fish out of water, for sure--befriends Alvin Dewey (Jeff Daniels), the decent, down-home detective charged with bringing in the culprit(s) responsible for the savage murder of the wealthy farm family. After the capture of killers Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) and Dick Hickock (Lee Pace), Capote--a brilliant manipulator--gains access to them and forms a bond with Smith, the more sensitive of the duo.

Cutting back to Capote's rarified Manhattan world and its iconic nighttime cityscapes, Infamous makes much ado about Truman's swans, the often willowy, celebrated society ladies who floated in the writer's orbit, relishing his witticisms and deliciously scooping up or doling out with him the latest gossip. The film suggests that the broadest range of American society imaginable--from cold-blooded murderer to mega-rich mogul trophy wife--was putty in the hands of the wily writer.

Infamous, with its Capote/Smith liplock, dares to go a little more sensational in its depiction of Capote's relationship with the more artistically inclined of the two killers. But this superficial foray into gay territory is more gray area than shocking pink.

Stylistically, the film sometimes gets gimmicky, veering from Capote's realism by featuring many of the brighter lights in Capote's circle as on-camera interview subjects giving testimonials. Like Capote himself, Infamous obviously delights in its proximity to celebrity and serves up a Tiffany platter of Gotham's bold-faced names back when. There's legendary fashion arbiter Diana Vreeland (deliciously portrayed by British actress Juliet Stevenson), head swan Babe Paley (Sigourney Weaver), socialite Slim Keith (Hope Davis), star editor and literary arbiter Bennett Cerf (Peter Bogdanovich) and, for more glitter, glimpses of heiress Marella Angelli (Isabella Rossellini) and Gwyneth Paltrow in a brief cameo as a fictitious El Morocco chanteuse.

On the serious side, Craig's Perry is full-fleshed and complex, helped by flashbacks to his miserable childhood and the senseless murders he committed. Bullock's earthy Harper Lee is a sober evocation of artistic insouciance and inertia, and indifference to wealth and social standing. And Cerf, noting that In Cold Blood both made and ruined Capote, corrals the cruel irony of the writer's life and the film's subtext.

Infamous often confronts a far-from-light subject, but its glamorous characters and occasional levity are fun.



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