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October 11-17, 2006

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In Cold Cuts: Truman Capote (Toby Jones) and Babe Paley (Sigourney Weaver) do lunch in 'Infamous.'

Capote, Take 2

'Infamous' retells again the story behind the real Truman show

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

APPARENTLY, it was a mere coincidence that Dan Futterman and Douglas McGrath (Nicholas Nickleby) finished their screenplays about Truman Capote at the same time. And not only at the same time, but telling the exact same narrative, beginning from the point where Capote discovers the newspaper story about the Kansas murders and ending when his masterpiece, the nonfiction novel In Cold Blood, is completed. Of course, Futterman and Bennett Miller's Capote opened last year to great acclaim and successful box office, and Philip Seymour Hoffman earned a much-deserved Oscar for his work in the lead role.

Now we have McGrath's Infamous, a movie strikingly different in tone and approach while remaining similar in story and ideas. This time a relative unknown—British actor Toby Jones, nothing less than a dead ringer for Capote—occupies the lead role. While Hoffman captured the writer's essence, Jones performs a dead-on impersonation. This Capote rather enjoys intriguing and offending his small-town subjects—regaling them with tales of arm-wrestling Bogart—while Hoffman's Capote merely looked down at them from his intellectual, big-city perspective.

In that, Infamous is a good deal funnier. When Capote and his co-researcher, Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock), first arrive in Kansas, the long, wide shot of the two New Yorkers standing, rather aghast, atop a bare train platform with nothing else for miles around is a hoot. The film spends a good deal more time in New York as well, showing Capote dining and sharing details with his magpie society ladies, played by an amazing array of familiar faces: Hope Davis, Isabella Rossellini, Sigourney Weaver and Juliet Stevenson. Director McGrath ranks their importance and elegance by the type of restaurant in which they appear. (The more down-home Ms. Lee eats sandwiches at a greasy spoon.)

Catherine Keener received an Oscar nod last year for her portrayal of Lee, but Bullock more than matches her, finding a quiet, almost sad, intelligent humility. McGrath's major error comes during the silly "testimonials" spread throughout the picture. Familiar actors turn up in front of a curtain, while a subtitle tells us who they're supposed to be. They interrupt and tell us bits of the story that McGrath was apparently unable to show visually.

Daniel Craig, playing the key role of murderer Perry Smith, doesn't quite achieve the soulfulness of Clifton Collins Jr.'s performance in Capote. Furthermore, what Capote beautifully suggested in the author and the convict's scenes together, Infamous takes to the hilt. Both films should be valued equally. But Infamous has something that Capote doesn't have: a jaw-dropping opening scene featuring Gwyneth Paltrow (as Peggy Lee) singing her heart out and pausing for a moment of sorrowful reflection; this devastating pause is enough to impress and even move Jones' Capote, watching from a nearby table. The scene reveals everything we need to know about the entire picture; that for all his brilliance and bluster, Capote is not above being touched by moments of truth.

Movie Times Infamous (R; 110 min.), directed and written by Douglas McGrath, photographed by Bruno Delbonnel and starring Toby Jones and Sandra Bullock, opens Oct. 13.

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