Apr 20, 2006

Capote II

I wonder what Truman Capote, who adored attention so much, would think about having not one, but two biopics immortalizing his writing of In Cold Blood on the silver screen. Two camps have seen the dramatic potential of this story and fortunately for us, with vastly different results.
Douglas McGrath's version, Infamous, is based on the book of interviews by George Plimpton, whereas last year's Oscar winner for Phillip Seymour Hoffman is based on the biography by Gerald Clarke.
So which one did I like better? Infamous.
When I saw Capote, I thought the filmmakers got on a high moral horse and punished Capote for how he went about writing his masterpiece. It bothered me that they neglected to give credit to the quality of the book. It was an interesting film, but felt a bit cold, somehow superior to its subject.
Infamous is less controlled, and thus much more emotionally gripping. There is a lot more information in it, not only about Truman Capote but also about his relationship with the two convicts, particularly Perry Smith. It gives a far more complex idea of who he was and what he did to write the book.
Here Capote is an incorrigible gossip, someone you couldn't trust with a secret, a talented imp hungry for attention, a master namedropper, and a brazen, self-centered charmer, who could be callous to his lover, selfish and needy with his friends. It also shows his extreme sensitivity, his serious commitment to his art, the sad family reasons behind his larger than life character. The British actor Toby Jones, who in contrast to Hoffman, has the right physique for the role, gives an astounding performance as Capote. Not only because of the mannerisms and the voice, but because of the intellectual acuity, the vulnerability, the neediness, the calculation and the constant presence of deep pain beneath the surface. As much as I liked Phillip Seymour Hoffman, at times I thought he was verging on the caricature, and he had only a couple of scenes in which the human being behind the eccentric flaming queen persona came through. I don't blame the actor, but the writing. Toby Jones, as outrageous as he looks and behaves, and he is hilarious, never seems a caricature. He is wickedly funny and extremely poignant, and he is given a lot more backstory, a lot more personal detail to work with. The material allows him to scope out much bigger emotional and psychological territory. I guess what the first film lacks is this poignancy.
has a marvellous cast of thousands. Sandra Bullock plays Harper Lee, and she is quite good, with a pretty solid Alabama accent and great empathy and intelligence. Then you have Sigourney Weaver, wonderful as Babe Paley and super sexy badass Daniel Craig as Perry Smith. Juliet Stevenson is dead on as Diana Vreeland and Peter Bogdanovich is very funny as Bennett Cerf. Before events turn serious, this movie is a hoot of characters and New York gossip and the eccentricities of the idle rich that Capote fawns over. It just seems much more full of life.
It also dwells much more into the sexual attraction and the intimate relationship that Capote forged with Smith. In essence it is a tragic love story. The personal fallout of having written such a masterpiece which dealt with actual people, feels far more tragic in this film. Infamous does not easily condemn Capote for his sins, and does not do a simplistic moral equation in which manipulating people for the sake of art is an evil thing to do, deserving of punishment. The tragic outcome is here for us to ponder, as is that gem of a book and the curious, wounded, maddening spirit who wrote it.

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