Poor Douglas McGrath. While slaving away on his film about Truman Capote, how was he to know that the 2005 release Capote would become a critical smash, earning Philip Seymour Hoffman an Academy Award and rendering any further efforts null and void? Infamous, while not wholly without merit, will never escape its predecessor’s clutches, and the timing is compounded by the fact that on the whole, it’s the lesser film. Toby Jones is quite good as Capote — even managing to be more physically suited for the role — but there’s something trivial in the performance; he manages to make Truman seem less a literary force than an eccentric bore. Capote was a raging narcissist who never failed to use his image to shock, appall, and garner attention, but at the center was a gifted writer who changed the face of the publishing industry with a single book. Jones is more buffoon than titan, which diminishes the accomplishment that was to cement his reputation for all time. By the time In Cold Blood is completed, this movie seems to think that the book is less important to Capote than an unrequited love affair with one of its subjects. The previous film saw clearly that Perry Smith was simply a means to an end, and any alleged “love” was but a ploy to secure information.
Infamous takes that extra step and actually shows Smith and Capote sharing a passionate kiss. Perhaps this did occur, but it fails to follow through by offering any clues as to why an educated, literate man would fall head over heels for a career criminal. It teases us with possibility, then leaves us hanging. The Capote we know from the earlier work is intolerable and vain, but at least we understand his motives; and the resulting achievement, frankly, justifies the ruse. Moreover, the Greek chorus of friends and acquaintances does little to flesh out the man, offering only insanely trite “insights” that sound scripted and rehearsed rather than authentically pure. As such, the tone is off from the opening scenes, turning a serious examination of a crime into lighthearted fun. And for no reason whatsoever, the Kansas murders were re-created for this film, when we know damn well that the 1966 Richard Brooks release will always remain the final word on that subject. It’s as if they had to throw blood and gore into the mix to add a level of importance that they knew it was missing.
And while we’re on the subject, who on earth decided to cast Daniel “007” Craig as Perry? The record is clear — as well as previous cinematic treatments — that Smith was a mere shell of a man; pathetic, shy, and so unimposing as to be weak and withdrawn. Because of this, his bursts of violence are that much more shocking. But Craig is well-built, commanding, and masculine, thereby making him less interesting as a killer. This is a guy who looks like he might enter the Golden Gloves, not a beaten-down twerp who feels ground beneath society’s boot heel. And Sandra Bullock fails to register as Harper Lee (the accent is the very definition of a stretch), while Sigourney Weaver, Gwyneth Paltrow, Hope Davis, and Peter Bogdanovich stop by and impersonate their favorite stars. Sure, it’s impossible to know how I’d feel had this movie come first, but I’m confident I would have logged its weaknesses nonetheless.