November 6, 2006


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Often I’ve wondered if I myself could rent a little, or even an immensely large, person for a few hours to liven up a birthday party or social gathering of some sort. Maybe I’d dress them (if I was lucky I’d get twins) in velour of a burgundy hue. After perusing the Yellow Pages and the Yahoo! Directory, I have yet to find this type of service, and frankly, I thought this type of classified listing existed only in the depths of my wildest dreams. Apparently, though, I didn’t do enough research, because when Douglas McGrath wanted a tiny little man with an uncanny ability to ooze flamboyance, the little people leprechaun brought a velour-clad Toby Jones and left him on McGrath’s doorstep.

The story of Infamous is essentially a biopic of Capote, though it’s focused on the most intriguing aspect of the writer’s life: the relationship he forged with the perpetrators of one of the most horrific killings in Kansas’s history to date. The audience comes to know the essence of the Capote who literally lived in decadence of velour — just like I’d dreamed — in the late 1950s with his mostly female New York society friends. We saw how he wined and dined with the socialites he schmoozed to get the gossip of affairs, abortions and who’d gotten “work done” on which he thrived. We could never really tell throughout the movie if it was in Capote’s nature to ever be genuine with anyone, or if he always had an ulterior motive to get ahead himself. When he read about the Clutter murders and dragged himself and Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock) out to The Boonies, Kansas, it seemed like classic Capote, just out to charm the ingénues of the small town, get what he wanted, and move on.

The heart of this film lies in Capote’s personal charms. Capote himself was a dimunitive person with an inescapable bravado who had to be thrice as charming as your average Ward Cleaver just to get the information he needed as a writer. When he detrained in Kansas, Capote used his vast namedropping aptitude to ingratiate himself with those who had written him off before (often by calling him ma’am) as completely untrustworthy. In fact, one of Capote’s buzzwords is trust, so it was crucial that the audience trusted this version of himself. Well, Toby Jones is so convincingly disingenuous that he genuinely becomes Truman Capote. The depth of that is even more complex when Capote begins to write the concluding chapters of his literary nonfiction novel In Cold Blood, and he writes in real time about the killers. He starts to do a number on himself now, too, compelling himself to believe that certain events occurred so that his ending for the book would be ideal.

It is true, however, that to achieve this level of understanding with the character of Truman Capote, the rest of the film had to be handled very carefully. Douglas McGrath competently steps up to the challenge, as there were no holes in the story to confuse the audience, besides Capote’s own, that is. The rest of the actors are as genuine as Jones is not, and Daniel Craig, our next 007, is stellar as Perry Smith, the killer who “fancies himself an artiste,” according to his cohort. The set designs are also central to the movie’s contrast of “Truman in Kansas” and “Truman in New York,” and this dichotomy becomes even more apparent when McGrath juxtaposes Capote’s lavish apartment in the city with Perry’s cell back in Kansas from which they did all of their interviews. Each detail is thought out meticulously by McGrath, which makes it much easier for us to be duped by Capote.

I don’t care that Philip Seymour Hoffman got an oscar just last February for playing Truman Capote in the movie with the eponymous title. It is irrelevant to me after seeing Infamous. Sure, both movies are great, but after I saw Infamous, it left an indelible mark in my consciousness. It has nothing to do with the grizzly crime that fascinated Capote enough to profile the killers, or the relationship he began with them after taking on their story. I just want to know: where did Toby Jones, acting godsend in size two shoes, come from?