Friday, October 13, 2006

Infamous - Movie Review

Infamous 2006

“All literature is gossip."
- Truman Capote

What do you mean there was a film last year about Truman Capote? And it was set in the early 60s when he was researching and writing his masterpiece “In Cold Blood”? Who knew?

Well, okay, we all did. And faithful readers already know how much we enjoyed that lovely and somber flick which popped up on simply everybody’s Top Ten List, including ours! And racked up a few Oscar noms and a big win for the big headed Philip Seymour Hoffman!

And now, we are faced with Douglas McGrath’s latest flick that also concerns Truman Capote, the Clutter murders and the glittering New York society that constituted Truman’s intimate circle. And you know what? It’s a gem.

Consider this take the dessert after the entrée. A beautifully made, deliciously sweet and fascinatingly decorating pastry of a film. But to be honest, we expected nothing less from the man who bravely attempted new takes on two classic tales and succeeded nobly both times. We adored his versions of Jane Austen’s “Emma and Charles Dickens “Nicholas Nickleby”, clearly Mr. McGrath knows his way around a literary adaptation. And “Infamous” is no exception. While last year’s “Capote” took its source material from the fine literary biography by Gerald Clarke, “Infamous” derives its inspiration from the less highbrow and far more gossipy tome from George Plimpton.

While the thrust of the film is still Truman’s infatuation with the brutal murder of the Clutter family of Holcombe, Kansas – the framing device is vastly different from “Capote”. In this case, it is Truman’s friends, lovers and acquaintances from the crème de la crème of post-War New York Society that chatter, gossip and debate the character of Truman Capote. And what a character he was.

Slight of frame, with a voice that friendly rival or loving enemy (take your pick) Gore Vidal once described as that of a “Brussels Sprout, if a Brussels Sprout could talk”, Truman was one of a kind. A talented writer with a desire for fame and immortality that outshone his substantial talent. Always, the harshest critic and loudest fan of his own work, he was relentless in marketing his singular talent. He was also relentless in his ability to befriend the society mavens of the Big Apple who would one day turn their backs on him for his blissfully ignorant ability to ignore their feelings while dragging their names through the mud with his aborted final opus, “Answered Prayers”. But that is probably a topic for yet another film, or rather the basis for the fine one man Broadway show, “Tru” that earned veteran actor Robert Morse a Tony Award in 1990. See, it seems the topic of Truman Capote is quite the fertile playground for dramatic interpretations.

But back to our flick at hand. As Truman, British actor Toby Jones is the antithesis of Philip Seymour Hoffman. His Capote is less of a pyrotechnical display of skills based solely on his relative anonymity as an actor. While many, including us marveled at Hoffman’s transformation, Jones delivers an equally impressive performance by seeming to inhabit the character from within rather than from the surface. This is not a latent criticism of Hoffman’s skill or performance, it is simply a commentary on the charming ease and plausibility of Toby Jones assuming the mantle so readily sans the Oscar grabbing attention. Which is a shame, for he deserves Awards mention for his perfectly modulated turn.

For the supporting cast to be described as glittering is a monstrous understatement. When we first heard of the roll call, we were stunned by the talent involved. Read and drool, movie lovers . . . we did.

"One can never be too rich or too thin."
- Babe Paley

"Babe Paley had only one flaw: she was perfect. Other than that, she was perfect."
- Truman Capote

Three time Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver turns on the grace and style to rival the real life Babe Paley, the queen of the international jet set.

“What do I think about the way most people dress? Most people are not something one thinks about.”
- Diana Vreeland

Juliet Stevenson dials down the monstrous infamy of fashion maven Diana Vreeland, but sadly lacks the sparkle compared to the other ladies. Perhaps la Vreeland's own persona was too large to squeeze into a relative cameo of a performance. Certainly she has recieved her theatrical due with Mary Louise Wilson's Award winning Off-Broadway portrayal in the appropriately bitchy and charming "Full Gallop" which crossed the boards a decade ago.

"God blessed me with a happy spirit and many other gifts. What I was not blessed with I went out and got. Sometimes the price was too high, but I've never been much of a bargain hunter."
- Slim Keith

Hope Davis is appropriately poised and genuine as the legendary Slim Keith, onetime wife to the great director Howard Hawks who earned her keep by discovering a teenaged fashion model who would become Lauren Bacall, and was known throughout the upper crust as a glittering hostess and fashion plate.

"If they were both in Tiffany's window, Marella would be more expensive."
- Truman Capote, comparing Marella Agnelli to Babe Paley

Isabella Rossellini is divinely soignée as the timelessly elegant Marella Agnelli.

Broadway veteran John Benjamin Hickey portrays Truman’s long suffering yet unfailingly loyal lover Jack Dunphy whose own writing career languished in the shadow of his partner.

“A person who can bring the spirit of laughter into a room is indeed blessed.”
- Bennett Cerf

Peter Bogdanovich ably glares his way through the role of publishing tycoon and famed man about town, Bennett Cerf.

Jeff Daniels is believably fine as the beleaguered law official, Alvin Dewey in charge of tracking down the killers of the Clutters and finding himself the unsuspecting host to the whirlwind Capote during his stay in rural Kansas.

As the brutal murderers who infiltrate the Clutter home, in a botched robbery attempt and wind up destroying the innocent family, the talented Lee Pace and our future husband Daniel Craig are both cast against type and deliver the goods in impressive supporting performances.

In particular, the next James Bond is spot on as the bleeding heart killer whose masculine exterior hiding the soul of an artist intrigues Truman more than just a little. Oh, who the hell are we kidding? Truman wanted to be locked away with Perry Smith for about as long as it took him to finish writing the book. Their sexual chemistry is one of the many intriguing surprises to be found in this version.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”
- Harper Lee

Sadly, the one sour note in the proceedings is one of the biggest names on the marquee. Sandra Bullock drops the glamour, the glitz, the eyeliner and apparently her common sense in portraying Truman’s childhood friend and noted author herself Nelle Harper Lee. This is the one performance that we insist on comparing with last year’s choice. For Catherine Keener’s Oscar nominated turn filled out the entire history of the complicated friendship between the famed duo, while managing to eschew her own fierce independence. It was a terrific turn, and Sandra can hardly hope to compare. We applaud her for attempting to dial down her star quality to enter the world of character actress, but honestly Sandy . . . who are you kidding? You were terrific in the underappreciated “The Lake House” where your singular talents were at their peak. Thank you for trying, but don’t do it again. We mean it.

And finally Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow delivers a stunning rendition of Cole Porter’s What is This Thing Called Love?” during a swank nightclub scene that opens the film on the perfect note. Halfway through the song, Miss Paltrow falters, seemingly lost in either an emotional reverie or breakdown or plain lapse of memory. As she hesitates in her vain attempts to remember the song, the audience including Truman is bewitched by a possibly scandalous moment onstage, all eyes and ears are riveted to the withering diva. She manages to recapture her memory, her glory and polishes off the song in true goddess fashion to the appropriately polite applause of the well to do patrons. It is a wonderful moment echoing many facets of Truman’s life. (An interesting sidenote to Miss Paltrow's performance. Early cast lists found on the internet credit her as portraying the legendary vocalist Peggy Lee, but either through an intervention from Miss Lee's representatives or a last minute change of heart from the director, her character has been dubbed one fictional "Kitty Dean". Still, to us it remains clear the inspiration was the great la Lee!)

"Writing stopped being fun when I discovered the difference between good writing and bad and, even more terrifying, the difference between it and true art. And after that, the whip came down."
- Truman Capote

While both "Capote" and "Infamous" focus on roughly the same time in Truman's life, before his prolonged demise, they manage to do so from different and equally fascinating points of view. This time around the focus is on the fame, the fortune, the star quality, the failures, the surprising resurrections and the ongoing fascination with this singular talent that held High Society, notorious murderers, daydreaming housewives and book lovers the world over in the palm of his tiny, talented hands. “Infamous” deserves more than just a look. It deserves praise for treading all too familiar waters with a wit and grace all too rare in films today. Bravo, Mr. McGrath and Brava Truman! Bless you all!

Written & Directed by Douglas McGrath
Based on the book by George Plimpton

Toby Jones as Truman Capote
Sigourney Weaver as Babe Paley
Gwyneth Paltrow as Kitty Dean
Juliet Stevenson as Diana Vreeland
Hope Davis as Slim Keith
Sandra Bullock as Nelle Harper Lee
Isabella Rossellini as Marella Agnelli
John Benjamin Hickey as Jack Dunphy
Peter Bogdanovich as Bennett Cerf
Jeff Daniels as Alvin Dewey
Daniel Craig as Perry Smith
Lee Pace as Dick Hickock
Lee Ritchey as William “Bill” Paley

Cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel
Film Editing by Camilla Toniolo
Original Music by Rachel Portman
Costume Design by Ruth Myers
Production Design by Judy Becker
Art Direction by Laura Ballinger
Set Decoration by Gene Serdena



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