Review written on: October 20th, 2006

Infamous Review

I have to admit, going into this movie I didn’t know what to expect. Wait. Well, actually I did. In the past year I have become very familiar with the story of the Clutter family murders due to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Truman Capote in the Oscar winning movie Capote. I was so impressed with that movie that I went out and read Capote’s book In Cold Blood, which gave me shivers and nightmares for weeks. Comparing the movie Capote with the book, however, I was left blinded with the Hollywood shimmer. In Capote, which in my mind definitely deserved the Oscars it received, the blood and gore of the story were fuzzed over, and we received the story through Capote’s eyes, but found out little about Capote himself. In Infamous, the camera is the narrator, and we are shown the horror the town went through, and also what writing the book did to Truman Capote. Infamous is a gritty movie that leaves a somber impression on the audience. Two men were put to death for a quadruple killing, but, as said in the movie by Nelle Harper Lee’s character, three men died on the gallows that day.

The movie is framed with character interviews answering questions about Truman Capote. This technique was interesting because we are shown how each character felt about Capote, and commented on his personality during the five years he was writing In Cold Blood. While the rest of the movie is focused on Capote’s character through Toby Jones’ portrayal, the interview style presented the other characters outside of Capote’s perception. The side comments enhanced Capote’s character and showed the level of friendship and love (or hate) that Truman Capote cultivated in his lifetime.

The cast of Infamous is impressive, but does not dominate the movie. They are very much split into two worlds: small town versus the big city. Capote is the only character to bridge the two successfully, but we find out the cost later on. Capote goes to Holcomb, Kansas not to investigate the murder of the Clutter family, but to study the impact of the slayings on the small town. It is interesting that Capote felt the need to do this, as he was living in New York at the time, where homicides were common. The upper crust society Capote moved within is shown through his interactions with Park Avenue society women, Babe Paley, Slim Keith, and Marella Agnelli, played by Sigourney Weaver, Hope Davis, and Isabella Rossellini, respectively. Each actress added to the realism of the society ladies, as they played the characters with fragile elegance, much like a Faberge egg. The troubles the three society women have, including infidelity, abortion, and infidelity again, contrasts the situation in Holcomb. While Holcomb had a horrific murder, there surely would not be these issues in the town. But, Capote’s method of obtaining information from his society friends mimics how he manages to get one of the murderers, Perry Smith, to confide in him. Capote is a natural gossip who makes his friends feel as if each one is his trusted confidant.

When Capote travels to Kansas with his childhood friend, budding novelist Nelle Harper Lee, he is an obvious outcast. While Hoffman’s Capote dressed in subdued tones indicating sophistication, Jones’ Capote kept his eccentricities apparent, even at the risk of alienating the town. This was an interesting part of the movie, because it showed that Capote was true to who he was; his personality and demeanor did not change between his two worlds. Perhaps it was this truthfulness that made Perry Smith trust him.

Sandra Bullock’s Nelle Harper Lee was dry, but fitting to the character she played: a small town girl who idolized her father and stood by her friends in the search for truth. In this role, Bullock sheds her chick flick appearance, and becomes Lee entirely. Her presence is felt through the movie, even in scenes she is not in.

The rest of the story is well known at this time. Capote corresponded with the two murderers and tried to help them in their appeals. However, Infamous shows a relationship between Perry and Truman that was brushed over in Capote. The emotion portrayed by Daniel Craig as Perry Smith made his character real, and when he is executed, we see why Capote put words in his mouth in his book. Don’t we want those we love put in the best light possible? Truman Capote did not publish another novel after In Cold Blood, and perhaps it is because he put so much of his life and passion into writing In Cold Blood that he did not have any more to give for another book.

While the movies Infamous and Capote are based on the same situation, the same person, and have much of the same characters, they are equally compelling and successful in their mission. The only question I have, is how odd would it be to have Toby Jones win an Oscar for his portrayal of Truman Capote one year after Phillip Seymour Hoffman won for his Capote? I have a feeling we will know the answer soon.


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