Friday, January 25, 2008

A Tale of Two Trumans

A Tale of Two Trumans
The Back-Stabber, Back-to-Back

Infamous(Douglas McGrath, 2006) There've been competing underwater worker movies, meteor movies, volcano movies, Mars movies, Wyatt Earp movies (and we just barely avoided competing King Kong and Alexander the Great movies) but of all the subjects in all the world for Hollywood to glom onto in a feeding frenzy of competition, the unlikeliest is the story of Truman Capote's self-possessed tussle writing "In Cold Blood." The first released was "Capote" featuring Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winning performance. The last out of the gate was "Infamous" with Toby Jones' portrayal of the writer far more flamboyant and less "interior," even though the British Jones is more the stature and timbre of the real Capote. Even though Jones doesn't have that far to stretch, he does, and his Capote is such a flagrant little creep that you wonder why anyone in Kansas would trust him with any details of the Clutter Family murder, much less give him the unprecedented access that he recieved. There are just as many well-known actors in both movies, but "Infamous" feels like stunt-casting, with Sandra Bullock as "Nell" Lee, Sigourney Weaver as the socialite wife of William Paley, and an out-there Juliet Stevenson as Diana Vreeland. Daniel Craig is all wrong as Perry Smith in age, power and accent. Ultimately, both films leave the distinct impression that Capote (the person) is a selfish bastard willing to sacrifice anything (including himself) for fame and fortune, but "Capote" (the film) drives the point home more fiercely, and with just the appropriate amount of a sense of tragedy. "Infamous" merely wallows. 

Speaking of which...

Capote (Bennett Miller, 2005) Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a big guy, with a big head and a massive frame, but dressed in too-big clothes and a girdling way of holding himself, he more than suggests Truman Capote's small stature with just a hint of his persuasive power ("Infamous" goes out of its way to show Capote swaying the Kansas-folk with his championship arm-wrestling--Hoffman never goes there, as that would ruin his "contained" illusion. Where "Infamous" is loud and obvious, "Capote" is quiet and persuasive, less sentimental and also less brutish. The same people shared in "Infamous" and "Capote" are quieter in the latter, Catherine Keener a quiet, decent, supporting Harper Lee, and Chris Cooper, concern etched into every line of his face, is a more dignified Sheriff Dewey than Jeff Daniels' more brusque version. And there is less melodrama in "Capote," and a cold persuasiveness and cruelty in the way Capote insinuates himself into the lives of Dick Hickox and Perry Smith to get their story, then leaves them hanging (very literally!) while he dawdles writing, awash in an anticipation of the acclaim he is sure he will garner. At one point, Smith asks if "In Cold Blood" refers to their murder, or Capote's behavior. It's a fair question. One wonders ruefully how Capote (the little creep) could live with himself for the remainder of his life. One has little sympathy for the plight of Hickox and Smith (though Perry is played very effectively by Clifton Collins), but Capote's treatment of them, while simultaneously playing the victim himself, bordered on the monstrous. But that was evidently a role he relished (see picture).

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