Infamous (2006)


Capote's flamboyant tastes are reflected in his sumptuous Manhattan apartment.

Capote’s flamboyant tastes are reflected in his sumptuous Manhattan apartment.

(2006) Biographical Drama (Warner Independent) Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Daniel Craig, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, Lee Pace, Sigourney Weaver, Gwyneth Paltrow, Isabella Rossellini, Juliet Stevenson, John Benjamin Hickey, Peter Bogdanovich, Michael Panes, Frank Curcio, Terri Bennett, Marco Perella, Libby Vellari, Terri Zee. Directed by Douglas McGrath

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” but sometimes the truth is the good story. In the hands of a master storyteller, the truth can be the most powerful weapon of all.

Novelist and raconteur Truman Capote (Jones) is the toast of New York. Effeminate, flamboyant and the man everyone wanted at their parties,  he lived and moved effortlessly among the social elite of Manhattan in the 1950s,, counting Babe Paley (Weaver), wife of CBS chairman William and fashion icon Diana Vreeland (Stevenson) among his very best friends and confidantes. It was an endless parade of cocktail parties, power lunches and acclaim for his essays and novels. He was one of the few openly homosexual men able to live pretty much as he chose, with a lover (Hickey) who essentially allowed him to have sex with whomever he chose. He lived at the center of the world and knew it.

One morning a story nearly buried in the newspaper caught his attention; Family of Four Slain in Home. The Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas had been brutally murdered, apparently without struggle and without anything taken from the home. The police were baffled and the town was deeply disturbed by so horrible a crime occurring in their midst. On impulse, Capote decides to go to Kansas to cover the murder but moreover its effect on the town. To aid him, he brings his childhood friend Harper Lee (Bullock) whose own novel To Kill a Mockingbird had just been published.

Once he gets there, the outrageous Capote fits in like a clown at a funeral. The dour district attorney Dewey (Daniels) isn’t inclined to grant the diminutive Capote special access and most of the other reporters make him the butt of their jokes. To his chagrin, Capote is mistaken for a woman on more than one occasion. Finally, with the charm of Southern belle Lee, he begins to make some headway among the suspicious Midwesterners, with tales of his dealings with Hollywood celebrities. That’s when the murderers are caught.

At first, they seem an odd pair. Richard Hickock (Pace) is loud and boisterous, young and terribly over his head. Perry Smith (Craig) is taciturn and sullen, almost paranoid. He knows what the future holds for him, and it is not rosy. The only control he has is whether or not he is exploited for the ends of others, and he thinks Capote smells of it. Capote, on the other hand, has astutely seen that the focus of the book has to change; from the effect of the murders on the townspeople, to something completely new and revolutionary; a true crime story told with the tools of a novel. In order to make it work, he needs the co-operation of the accused killers. While Hickock, with the promise of money, is eager to oblige, Smith refuses. Capote tries to woo them with porn and later, with literature. Slowly, grudgingly, Capote gets Smith to soften. Eventually the two are confiding in each other, but with the gallows looming over the two killers, Capote finds himself in an awful position as he writes what will be a classic novel – In Cold Blood.

Jones, who at the time was best known as the voice of Dobby the House Elf in Harry Potter series is truly a revelation here. He doesn’t just portray Capote, he inhabits the role as closely as an actor can. He is utterly believable from the moment he steps on-camera, and while Phillip Seymour Hoffman may have gotten the Oscar for essentially the same part, Jones may have actually delivered the superior performance. It doesn’t hurt that he physically resembles the late author.

Craig plays a decidedly un-Bond-like character. His Perry Smith is prone to fits of rage but is full of genuine remorse. He is the kind of man that can slip a pillow under a frightened boy’s head to make him comfortable, then shoot him in the head with a shotgun at point blank range moments later. Craig brings the role to life, making the notorious convicted killer as human as someone capable of that kind of horror can be. Bullock, who has been doing some of the best acting of her career in recent years (Crash and The Blind Side for example) is again excellent here as the shy, reclusive Lee who is capable of warmth and charm but seems more comfortable in Capote’s shadow, even though she was certainly his equal as a writer. Daniels, Pace, Weaver and Stevenson deliver strong performances in small roles.

The bleakness of small-town Kansas in winter contrasts with the bright sophistication of New York City, and the production design team does an excellent job bringing both locations to life. Director McGrath doesn’t resort to gimmicks to tell his story as recent movies set in this time period often do, but rather prefers to allow the story to tell itself, feeling that the story is sufficient. That’s a wise choice.

The movie had the great misfortune to be released after Capote. It unfortunately suffers from the comparison and while in many ways it’s a better movie, in many ways it isn’t as good – the Hoffman film has a bit more depth to it as Infamous essentially concentrates on a short period in Capote’s life whereas Capote gives us more perspective of who the author was as a person.

The recreation of the murders is a bit intense and there is a sexual encounter between Capote and another man that may be a bit much for the impressionable. Otherwise, you should absolutely see this movie, I say. Yes, some will say it covers the same ground as Capote – and it does – but let’s face it, this takes a far different approach to the subject than Capote did, and Jones’ performance is so authentic that you should see the film just for that. This is one of those hidden gems that got almost no notice during its initial theatrical release, overshadowed by a bigger star and better promotion; I can’t recommend this enough.

WHY RENT THIS: A career-defining performance by Jones. Strong supporting cast. McGrath wisely allows the story to stand on its own.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks context.
FAMILY MATTERS: There is a fair amount of foul language, some violence and brief sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Sigourney Weaver’s first film role was in Annie Hall which also featured the real Truman Capote.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $2.6M on a $13M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Amazon, iTunes, Flixster, Vudu
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Capote
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Into the Grizzly Maze

Snow Angels


Kate Beckinsale ignores the third eye growing out of Sam Rockwell's forehead.

Kate Beckinsale ignores the third eye growing out of Sam Rockwell's forehead.

(Warner Independent) Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Michael Angarano, Olivia Thirlby, Griffin Dunne, Jeannetta Arnette, Nicky Katt, Amy Sedaris. Directed by David Gordon Green

Love can be a double edged sword. When love is good, there is nothing better in the world. You feel like you can take on any challenge, accomplish any goal. When love goes bad however, it can turn on you savagely and eviscerate your very soul.

In a small Pennsylvania town, snow is a blanket that hides the unpleasant things that simmer just below the surface. Annie (Beckinsale) is trying to raise her toddler daughter by herself, having left her husband Glenn (Rockwell) after too many drunken nights. He has found Christianity and clings to it like a drowning man to a life preserver, seeing it as a way out – not so much of his drinking but a route back to his family.

Arthur (Angarano) works at the same Chinese restaurant as Annie, who used to be his babysitter and who he still has a crush on. He is a teenager busy with the things of high school; hanging out with his friends, playing in the marching band, preparing to college. His mother (Arnette) and father (Dunne) are in the process of splitting up. He turns to Lila (Thirlby), a friend who is something of an outsider for solace; their relationship deepens into something more.

Annie is a mess. She’s having an affair with the husband (Katt) of her best friend (Sedaris) and battles her mother, who is anxious for her to reconcile with her husband. Glenn, in the meantime, is battling his demons and losing the fight. It doesn’t take a genius in the human condition to figure out that a tragedy is fast approaching and the leads are far too busy staring at the rear-view and side mirrors to see what’s in front of them.

Green is one of the most acclaimed directors on the indie scene and this is the first of his four directorial efforts that he has based on an outside source (a Stuart O’Nan novel). In lesser hands, this could have been a standard small town Midwinter tragedy, one of many out there. Green has a great ear for dialogue, and every character manages to sound authentic. He also has a great sense of his characters. He doesn’t allow them to descend to cliches, but he doesn’t allow them to be anything less than sympathetic. He also casts them near-perfectly.

Beckinsale, mostly known for her role as a vampire in the Underworld series, shines here. She plays a woman who has had a life filled with bad choices and who has endured the curse of being a beautiful woman in a small town. Small towns tend to magnify things, simply because there is so little competition for conversation. She’s struggling to break free of the corner she’s painted herself into, but the angels of her lesser nature tend to overwhelm the angels of her better nature. I had not known Beckinsale for her acting ability so much as for looking awesome in a vinyl catsuit, but I’ve revised my opinion of her.

Rockwell has added another in a long line of truly terrific performances. He is rapidly evolving into one of those actors who can carry a movie by himself, and while he didn’t get much Oscar buzz for this performance (which is a crime in and of itself), he seems destined to win one or more of the coveted trophies at some point. He may not necessarily be the dashing leading man, but he certainly does everyman as well as anybody.

The romance between Angarano and Thirlby is at the center of the movie and provides a sweet counterpoint to the collapsing relationships that belong to the adults of the movie. It is ironic that the best relationship in the movie belongs to the youngest people in it, which sticks a bit in my craw. So often the movies tend to portray teenage relationships as superior to adult ones, but the fact is that teenagers are at least as prone to treating each other like dirt as adults are. Still, Angarano and Thirlby handle their roles skillfully, and some of the best moments in the film belong to them.

The sense of impending tragedy is certainly palpable, but it isn’t central to the experience of the film. The denouement, foreshadowed in the film’s opening moments, is not the point of the journey, merely a terrible sight on it. The journey is the one taken by the characters, trying desperately to interact with the others in their lives and failing miserably. We all have relationships like that, ruined by our own inability to articulate how we feel and what we want – sometimes because we ourselves don’t know how we feel or what we want.

The snow can hide all matter of sins, but blood will inevitably show up starkly against the serene whiteness of a winter landscape. My wife is fond of saying “your sins will find you out” and so they will. This is not so much a movie about sin, but about the aftermath of sin and the flotsam it generates. It’s a powerful look at the underbelly of what are generally good people, and how their moments of weakness resonate through the lives that surround them.

WHY RENT THIS: Fine performances by Rockwell, Beckinsale, Angarano and Thirlby are worth watching. Green is one of the best dialogue writers in independent films today. The characters are flawed but relatable.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The characterization of Glenn as a born-again Christian may offend those who are Christians or struggling with alcoholism.

FAMILY VALUES: Some drug use, sexuality, foul language and violence. Suitable for mature teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This movie was originally written by Green for another director; when that director moved on to another property, the production company asked Green to direct it.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Heima