Thursday, October 26, 2006

INFAMOUS - Capote as genuinely tragic

So you think your book is worth a human life? Another year, another film about Truman Capote which features strong performances but is flawed nonetheless.

The story is the same. Truman Capote is a famous author who mingles with ladies who lunch in New York, leading a pampered existence. One day he reads about a well-respected farming family that has been brutally murdered in its home in rural Kansas. Capote journeys there to write a magazine article on how the murders have affected the town but soon realises he has enough material for a new kind of book - a non-fiction novel. In order to flesh out the novel, he partially feigns friendship with one of the murderers - Perry Smith. The relationship has a slim core of genuine empathy but Capote exploits Perry. And by the end, he has sold his soul. Capote knows he can only publish his perfect novel when his friend hangs for murder. Capote didn't write anything substantial again.

The films, however, are rather different. In last year's CAPOTE, Truman is portrayed as chillingly calculated. He is mean to his best friend, Nell (Harper) Lee and resentful of her success with To Kill a Mockingbird. He shamelessly manipulates Perry Smith. I found that movie over-long though beautifully shot and acted. Most of all, I resented the fact that Perry was again exploited - a mere mirror to reflect back the emptiness of Capote.

By contrast, this new movie, INFAMOUS, is not well-shot. It's not well put-together. I hate the device of having big-name actors playing big-name socialites. Sigourney Weaver, Isabella Rosselini, Hope Davis, Juliet Stevenson, Peter Bogdanovich and Gwyneth Paltrow look like they are participating in a cheap version of STARS IN THEIR EYES. It's even worse that instead of simply telling the story and allowing us to infer the message, the director has these famous people make like they are in a documentary, talking to the camera about Truman in front of a New York cardboard backdrop.

The bizarre thing is that while I find the purely technical aspects of cinema were better used in CAPOTE, INFAMOUS is, to my mind, the better film. For for the first time we see something of Perry Smith, played with the right mix of strength and vulnerability by Daniel Craig. The movie does not see him as merely a person to throw-up the ruthless ambition of Capote. And this touches on the real strength of the film - which is the nuanced performance of each lead actor.

Sandra Bullock's Harper Lee is a revelation and proves that Bullock is a far better actress than the roles she takes on. And Toby Jones is a fabulous Capote. He captures Capote's love of ease and his own eccentricities - his spitefulness and love of gossip. But in sharp contrast to CAPOTE, Jones' Capote is a man with a heart and a soul. He really does fall for Perry Smith and at once sees the unbearable contradictions this has thrust upon him. There is a tremendous scene after Capote and Smith have kissed where Capote goes back to his hotel room and looks in the mirror. He is giddy with joy at first. But then, without uttering a word, you see his face crumple. Because he can foresee the cruel dilemma facing him - to love a man and yet need that man to die because you cannot live without writing. In other words, instead of Philip Seymour Hoffman's monster, Toby Jones gives up a genuinely tragic figure.

INFAMOUS played Venice, Toronto and London 2006. It opened in the US earlier this month and opens in he UK on January 19th 2007.

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