Oh, the sad sighs that must have greeted the writer and director Douglas McGrath when he told people he was finishing a film called Infamous, about Truman Capote and the writing of In Cold Blood—at the precise moment when Philip Seymour Hoffman and the makers of Capote were racking up nominations and awards.
Of course, some of us found Capote—in spite of Hoffman’s stupendous performance—a little on the dreary side. The screenwriter, Dan Futterman, took his cues from Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer, and so the movie became the story of a devious little shit who sells his soul for a book: It was Capote’s blood that ran cold.
Well, any movie about Truman Capote with almost no sense of humor has taken a wrong turn somewhere, and Infamous gets the balance right—at least for an hour or so. As Capote, Toby Jones is dandy; I’d be praising him to the heavens if not for you-know-who. And he’s surrounded by the most delicious actors: Sigourney Weaver as Babe Paley, Hope Davis as Slim Keith, and the divine Juliet Stevenson as Diana Vreeland—who delivers an ode to eccentricity that frames Capote generously. We marvel at the man’s incorrigibility and mordant wit; we’re allowed to discover for ourselves that he’s a devious little shit.
The problem with McGrath’s writing is that there’s no subtext. People blurt things out as fast as the words pop into their heads—great for cocktail-party repartee, not so good for feeling out murderers on Kansas’s death row. Daniel Craig brings a restlessness to Perry Smith that’s frightening and convincing, but I kept wanting to insert longer pauses in between his and Capote’s lines, maybe to bring it halfway back to Capote.
Hey, there’s a thought: If someone could edit the two movies together—a bit from one, a bit from the other, call it The Infamous Capote—we’d have the definitive story of the writing of In Cold Blood.
Infamous, Directed by Douglas McGrath, Warner Independent; opens October 13 (R).