Talent, research, and dedication aren't always enough.
Sometimes ya gotta pick your spots. If Infamous had come out a year and a half
earlier it might well have earned many Oscar nominations. It is an excellent
evocation of the six years author Truman Capote dedicated to the creation of his
masterwork, In Cold Blood, and is anchored by a pluperfect performance by Toby
Jones, who looks and sounds exactly like Capote. This is not an actor playing
Capote. This is Capote come back to life to play himself.
Only one problem. Been there; done that. In September of 2005,
just thirteen months before Infamous was released, another excellent film
(Capote) came out, which covered the exact same story, within the exact same
period of time, with a very similar spin, and with another acclaimed performance
(by Philip Seymour Hoffman). The earlier film grossed about twenty million
dollars, pretty solid numbers for a cerebral film about a flamboyantly gay
writer and his relationship with a convicted mass murderer. The first film also
won an Oscar for Philip Seymour Hoffman. It's reasonable to say that the first
film exhausted the public demand for this tale, as well as the academy's quota
of awards to be given to Truman Capote impersonators and films featuring them.
That's a shame, because Infamous is a film of comparable
quality to Capote, and Toby's performance is (I'm about to commit a sacrilege
here) as good or better than Hoffman's Oscar-winning turn.
The basic difference between the two films is that Infamous is
the more visceral, Capote the more cerebral. The Infamous version of the story
is not based on a formal biography, as the first one was, but rather on a series
of gossipy interviews conducted by George Plimpton in his book, "Truman Capote:
In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His
Turbulent Career." The Hoffman version kept a great emotional distance in the
interactions between its characters, and left much unsaid, often building a wall
between itself and its audience, and living in the minds of its characters.
Infamous lives in the passions of its characters. The quasi-sexual relationship
between Capote and Perry Smith is right out in the open, whether historically
accurate or not. Killer Perry Smith admits to being in love with the author, and
Capote reciprocates to the extent that anyone can love a man who has slaughtered
four people and will soon hang. They exchange a sexual kiss in the privacy of
Smith's cell, and Smith publicly kisses Capote goodbye when he is led off to the
gallows. In this latest version of the story, Capote is not merely manipulating
the killer to create a better book, but is genuinely involved with his heart,
and is distraught after Smith's hanging. His failure to intercede on behalf of
the killers was not a matter of callousness, but powerlessness. It is the thesis
of this screenplay that the emotional devastation of watching Smith hanged was
what ultimately caused Capote's life to disintegrate and his career to founder
after the publication of In Cold Blood. This version of Truman Capote is deeper
and more capable of genuine emotion than the one Hoffman created in Capote.
Hoffman's version of the character was brilliant, but possessed neither
emotional depth nor a moral compass.
They are both good movies, but Capote is a film to admire from
afar, while Infamous is more engaging and a better story (if perhaps not as
likely to be true). Infamous has more gaiety in the New York social whirl, and
more tension in the Smith/Capote encounters. It has higher highs and lower lows
than the first film. It also has a brilliant supporting performance from Daniel
Craig (the new 007), who brings intensity and intellectual strength to the role
of Perry Smith. While the first film showed a cold and manipulative Capote
pulling Smith's strings like a puppet-master, Infamous shows them as duelists,
exchanging the position of advantage from time to time. Capote gets severely
reprimanded by Smith when his efforts are obviously insincere and manipulative.
This version of Perry Smith is every bit Capote's intellectual equal. Smith is
even an incisive critic of Capote's earlier books, because the killer has to
study the works intensely in order to determine whether Capote is the sort of
man to whom he should trust his life story. While Truman still manages to
manipulate Smith to some extent, he has to reach deep inside himself to do so,
because Smith is not easily fooled by Capote's first superficial efforts. In
doing that, Truman eventually lets down his guard and offers his real self.
Although he is a man who never really loved, he comes as close as he ever did
with Perry Smith. Only after sensing that does Smith soften and co-operate with
I really am never comfortable in cobbling films into the
vocabulary of "better" or "worse." Oh, of course I do it for fun now and again
as we all do when he have a beer or two and somebody at the bar says, "Best
sports film?" Who can resist that? But I'll start taking it seriously only when
somebody can offer me a methodology that will allow me to evaluate whether Pulp
Fiction is better or worse than Fantasia. And it's not just that I hate trying
to rank disparate films. In the case of Capote and Infamous, the films are as
similar as any two films can be, and I'm still not comfortable in listing them
vertically. But I will say this without qualification: although I am open to the
idea that Capote is a smarter film, and will acknowledge that it is certainly
subtler, I like Infamous better. In fact, much better.
This is an odd movie. At times it seems to aspire toward
status as an Oscar-baiting drama about dysfunctional families, ala The Hours. At
other times it borrows from Southern Gothic melodrama, like The Heart is a
Lonely Hunter. At other times it plays out like a conventional Hollywood
thriller. At still other times it flirts with the conventions of the lurid,
youth-oriented exploitation thriller, in the manner of Wild Things. The trailer
goes for something still different, and makes it seem like a horror film.
It's a little of each of those, and they don't always blend
easily, so that it forms a cinematic cocktail with a consistency less like a
smoothly blended martini than like a rusty nail. No matter how hard you try to
blend in that drambuie, it always leaves that weird oil slick floating on the
The film begins with a dark-haired cheerleader telling her
blonde friend what a great family she has: successful mom, handsome dad,
beautiful home. This conversation will soon reveal itself to have been darkly
ironic. The blonde's household is about as dysfunctional as possible. Her mom is
a pill-popping space cadet and her dad is fucking her. The already volatile
situation is brought to the boiling point by the family's adoption of their
godchild, a deaf teenage girl who has suddenly found herself orphaned. While the
cheerleader is one of the most popular kids in school, her new step-sister is a
freakish outsider who is even rejected by the losers, and sits completely alone
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter portion of the film soon takes
over, as all of the family members start to confide their innermost secrets to
the deaf-mute. It is just a way of getting things off their chests without
actually betraying any secrets because, well, she can't hear what they're saying
anyway. Various people at school do the same thing, including a sincere guy who
courts the deaf girl in earnest, and confesses all his innermost secrets with
his back to her.
The next phase of the film turns is the Oscar-baiting portion,
in which the incestuous father confesses how he hates himself and wants to quit
the abuse, and the cheerleader daughter informs him she is pregnant, and so
forth. We then find out that the mother really knows what's going on, but
withdraws into her own drug-addled state and ignores the situation.
I suppose by now you have guessed that the deaf girl is not
really deaf, and has quickly learned the secrets of the family, the school, and
probably the Chinese Navy for all I know, since everybody has conversations
around her as if she were not there at all.
The daughter decides that she doesn't want to sleep with dad
any more. Dad gets upset at her. At this point the film becomes a thriller, with
all of the major characters locked in a tense situation which will soon come to
The critics blasted it, with both Metacritic and Rotten
Tomatoes showing scores in the twenties, and only 12% of the critical "cream of
the crop" gave it positive reviews. Like most critics, I found it too dark and
serious to be erotic fun, and too sleazy to be taken seriously. Younger
audiences had no such problems. The film is rated a most respectable 6.6 at
IMDb, with a wide disparity between the perceptions of younger and older
audiences. Females under 18, for example, rate it a spectacular 9.0, and their
male counterparts are not so far behind that with a 7.7, but females over 45
rate it a mere 4.6, and the top 1000 voters score it a wishy-washy 5.7, Even
that score seems high for a film with a 12% rating by RT's "cream of the crop,"
so it's obvious that this is just one of those movies which audiences like much
more than critics do.
Just in passing, there is no flesh of any kind in the "unrated" School for
* Yellow asterisk: funny (maybe).
* White asterisk: expanded format.
* Blue asterisk: not mine.
No asterisk: it probably sucks.
Catch the deluxe version of Other Crap in real time, with all the bells and whistles,
Crooked Hearts (1991) was pretty thoroughly trashed by Scoopy when it was
first released. I would love to present an opposing viewpoint, but felt the
same way. It started with an interesting cast and seemed promising, and then
we had a steady string of tragedies that robbed me of any interest in the
film. Tom (Pete Berg) drops out of school at Berkeley and returns to his
family. We learn that failure is a tradition with them. He has returned
because his girlfriend managed to get pregnant and married. He is not the only
one that can't stay away from home, as his much older brother Charley (Vincent
D'Onofrio still lives at home and seems to have no ambition beyond getting
laid occasionally. His younger brother Ask (Noah Wyle) seems to be the heart
and conscience of the family, little sister Cassie (Juliette Lewis) is
disturbed enough to have a sleep disorder, and dad (Peter Coyote) and mom
(Cindy Pickett) at first seem normal.
Then the chain of tragedy starts, as do the spoilers
1) Tom discovers that brother Charley made his girlfriend pregnant.
2) Charley decides to burn down the family house.
3) Charley leaves dad's personal love letters from his mistress for Tom and
Ask to find. It seems dad did the nasty with the girl Charlie was sweet on.
4) Charlie burns down the family home.
5) Tom and Ask decide to burn the letters. The wind blows them into the
road. Ask is run down and killed while trying to retrieve them.
IMDb readers say 5.7. The film is supposedly based on a first novel from a
Texas English teacher. Oddly, all 10 who commented at IMDb seemed to love this
film. Perhaps the following excerpt from a comment explains. "This is the sort
of dark little film which is original and wonderfully written but too subdued
and depressing to ever gain wider acceptance. The tale of a family's descent
into mutual distrust and self pity is not something most people would be
willing to watch, regardless of the work."
This is a C or C-, obviously good enough to entertain some genre fans.
Maggie Gyllenhall is like an Everyready battery, always ready to get naked
for the Camera. Here's Maggie in all her full-frontal glory in Strip Search.
Red Riding Hood
Whoa, baby, don't show this one to your kids. This stylish but gory
2003 horror/thriller from Italy (English soundtrack) is nothing like the
title might suggest, but it's good Dario Argento-style horror, very well
Jenny is a 12-year-old who winds up with her grandmother in Rome when
her mother abandons her. Lonely and despairing, Jenny's only friend is
George, who has a disturbing habit of going around in a wolf mask and
cape. Together, Jenny and George unleash a murder spree on Rome, as Jenny
seeks to right perceived wrongs. If Jenny sees someone doing something she
dislikes, that person could well wind up dead. Thieves, bigamists, even
people who simply are rude to her, become targets.
Enhanced by a soundtrack that sounds like it came from a Broadway
musical, this is a first-rate horror flick.
Notes and collages
The Ladies of
When a war veteran, Sonia (Kim Feeney), is admitted for post-war
stress in a hospital, she recognizes a violent man being admitted as a
vampire (Giancarlo Esposito) and offers to help him. In exchange he
offers her, to take away all the bad memories from the war. The sex
scene in this episode was very hot, Kim Feeney looked great on it.