Infamous. Toby Jones, Daniel Craig, and Sandra Bullock star in a film written and directed by Douglas McGrath.
Reviewed by D.J. Palladino
Déjà vu all over again, Infamous is primarily odd because it’s the second film this year on one hyper-specific topic, Truman Capote’s nonfiction novel In Cold Blood. Of course, there have been other twin film releases: Tombstone/Wyatt Earp and Dangerous Liaisons/Valmont among them. Hollywood is an imitative art. Odder than the general twin-ness, though, is how scene-for-scene alike they are. You begin to feel lost, particularly if you long ago read Capote’s book and saw the 1967 film starring Robert Blake.
But the oddest thing about this film is Sandra Bullock’s triumph in the role of Harper Lee, a performance that tops even Catherine Keener’s incisive Capote interpretation. That’s right, goddammit, I said Sandra Bullock, whose accent may suggest Forrest Gump occasionally, but who holds forth here with dignity, righteousness, and sad, perfect relevance. In fact, most of the acting is exciting, from Toby Jones (whose last big job was Dobby in a Harry Potter), to Sigourney Weaver, Hope Davis, and Isabella Rossellini as Tru’s infamous “Swans,” the glory girls of the nascent international Jet Set. Daniel Craig, whom I predict will be the second best Bond for eternity, is dazzling and scary as killer Perry Smith here.
Overall, Infamous is the better film. Though both versions mislead slightly about Capote’s shiny, loathsome last years (he ultimately betrayed his Swans), this film makes the bolder indictment. It blasts the ugly duplicity lodged in the heart of a “nonfiction novel,” and, by inference, in journalism. But a deeper theme of self-delusion emerges in Infamous. Perry Smith while in prison tells Capote how much he wanted to be an artist, failing in music and painting. But now that he has murdered somebody, he says, his life nudged art out of Capote’s pen. Jones’s scenes as Truman (True Man) agonizing before a mirror are purgatorial trials.
But the senselessly murdered Clutter family had hopes, too. In fact, as Smith relates poetically, the killer gave the son a pillow to lay his head on before blowing him away.