2½ stars (out of four)
Didn't we just have a film about Truman Capote writing "In Cold Blood"? Yes, last year. It was called "Capote," and it was excellent. Now there's another one, and though stylistically all over the place, it's not without interest.
Writer-director Douglas McGrath's "Infamous" canvasses much of the same territory as "Capote." It follows the celebrated author with a voice like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon character as he shuttles between New York and the stark environs of Holcomb, Kan. In Holcomb, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock murdered the Clutter family and carved themselves a place in the history of 20th Century crime. Capote decided to write a book about it, and the book made him. But made him into what?
British actor Tony Jones plays Capote. Accompanying Capote on the assignment of his career was Nelle Harper Lee, played here, and well, by Sandra Bullock
Unsteadily, McGrath veers from high-society comedy in the early scenes, featuring Capote swanning around Manhattan, to a full-on love story between Capote and Smith, played with purpose and anguish by the new James Bond, Daniel Craig. This is the key difference between the earlier Capote picture and this one: In "Infamous," the killer becomes a major player. "Infamous" spends much of its first hour trafficking in arch amusement, establishing Capote as a gossipy New York confidante of rich and powerful women. (Sigourney Weaver plays Babe Paley and Juliet Stevenson is to the lacquer-born as fashion priestess Diana Vreeland.) But later, the push-and-pull, reporter-and-source relationship between Capote and Smith is depicted far more intimately than in "Capote," and it's the most interesting thing in an uneven picture.
Physically Jones is far closer to the real Capote than Philip Seymour Hoffman was, and vocally he's certainly close to the mark. Unlike Hoffman, however, Jones never lets you relax into his performance and get past the artful mimicry. He hits pay dirt, though, in the scenes with Craig.
"Infamous" adds a couple of valuable wrinkles to our understanding of Capote. There's an astute, brief scene wherein Capote scans his notebook to see which version of a particularly juicy quote, taken from memory and adjusted three different ways for poetic punch, he'll choose for the book. More so than in "Capote," the all-consuming "In Cold Blood" project's impact on Harper Lee's career is fully felt.
When the film doesn't work it doesn't work at all: All by itself Rachel Portman's godawful score nearly kills it. The music tries so hard to jolly us along in the early scenes, you want to run. By the end, however, "Infamous" more or less finds itself, after trying a little bit of everything.
Directed by Douglas McGrath; screenplay by McGrath, based on George Plimpton's book "Truman Capote"; cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel; edited by Camilla Toniolo; production design by Judy Becker; music by Rachel Portman; produced by Christine Vachon, Jocelyn Hayes and Anne Walker-McBay. A Warner Independent Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:58. MPAA rating: R (for language, violence and some sexuality).
Truman Capote - Toby Jones
Nelle Harper Lee - Sandra Bullock
Perry Smith - Daniel Craig
Bennett Cerf - Peter Bogdanovich
Alvin Dewey - Jeff Daniels
Slim Keith - Hope Davis
Babe Paley - Sigourney Weaver
Diana Vreeland - Juliet Stevenson