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INFAMOUS
U.S. Release Date: October 13, 2006
Distributor: Warner Independent
Director: Douglas McGrath
Producer: John Wells ((executive))
Composer: Rachel Portman
Cast: Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Daniel Craig, Gwyneth Paltrow, Hope Davis, Isabella Rossellini, Jeff Daniels, Sigourney Weaver
Running Time: 1 hour and 58 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (language, violence and some sexuality)

Capote Drama Spread Too Thin
by Scott Holleran

Writer Truman Capote gets smaller and the foul murderers he wrote about get more sympathetic in writer and director Douglas McGrath's botched biographically-themed picture, Infamous. The movie, based on a book by George Plimpton, is not completely without merit.

Swishy New York intellectual Capote (played by diminutive Toby Jones), who wrote Breakfast at Tiffany's (the basis for the Audrey Hepburn movie) and articles for the New Yorker, was the toast of the town, regaling society women with gossip and flattery, which this movie attempts to capture more than last year's moodier Capote.

The opening scene with puny Truman accompanying CBS chief Bill Paley's wife, Babe (Sigourney Weaver), to a nightclub hints at trouble; he pityingly gazes upon a struggling singer played by Gwyneth Paltrow in a scene meant to suggest Truman's Achilles' Heel: his empathy.

Thus begins an ultimately maudlin decline—when he traveled to Holcomb, Kansas, to write about two monsters for his book, In Cold Blood—that, as treated here, shrinks his stature as a writer. Pulling out the stops, writer/director McGrath uses face-the-camera documentary-style interviews, lavish period costumes and an all-star cast to punch the story up.

Truman, after reading about the shotgun executions of the entire Clutter family, persuades his friend, To Kill a Mockingbird writer Harper Lee (dowdy Sandra Bullock) to join him on the trip, where he ingratiates himself into the investigation. This is the most interesting part, with Truman adding a dash of Manhattan to Kansas—and, later, vice versa—and angling to get in on the action by wearing Jeff Daniels' stern lead detective down.

The town is thoroughly charmed by the effeminate elf. When the killers are nabbed in Las Vegas, the theme that to create is to suffer settles in, pushing the meowing cats—wonderfully played by Miss Weaver, Isabella Rossellini, Hope Davis and Juliet Stevenson as bizarre Vogue editor Diana Vreeland—to the sidelines and showcasing Truman's darker persona. The party's over.

He bonds with gimpy killer Perry Smith (Daniel Craig) over similar childhoods and the tattooed murderer's drawings. Perpetually on the verge of either uncontrollable rage or prison rape, Truman purrs to Smith in his Death Row cell: "Artists have the power to escape a degenerate world and create a better one." True, which is why Infamous, which hedges on Truman's character, falters.

Skipping from Manhattan's cocktail parties to musty Kansas prairie houses, Truman Capote loses whatever made him either repulsive or compelling. Arm wrestling his way to earning a policeman's respect one minute and falling in love with a serial killer the next, he cancels himself. After nearly two hours, one could care less about this strange little man on his strange little journey into darkness.

The crime, as in Capote, is minimized. While a scene involving the pain of one of the killers is supposed to be agonizing, the victims' suffering is neither substantially nor equally portrayed. What purports to show how Truman went from life of the party to alcoholic zombie shifts into random fragments on the Death Penalty, repressed homosexuality and silly anti-American rants by Miss Bullock's Harper Lee. Echoing today's headlines, an emphasis on the sick and twisted trivializes the movie's most mysterious characters—the Clutters—whose unexplored lives leave a huge, gaping hole. Half of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is about them; most of Infamous is not.

Peppered with good performances—Jones is fine but Miss Weaver and Daniels stand out—sharp costumes and fine photography, such as a long shot of a rusty, old red train pulling out across the Kansas plains, Infamous is too carried away by its ill wind to convey the pinnacle and downfall of the man who was Truman Capote.


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