The charm factor
‘Infamous’ turns the spotlight on Capote in the world

by Judith Reynolds

nfamous,” the newest film about Truman Capote, demonstrates that the gift of gab opens doors. It also shows what oils the hinges – good listening. But there’s a price to pay.

Based on George Plimpton’s collection of interviews on Capote, “Infamous” is quite different from last year’s version of roughly the same story. In 2005, Director Bennett Miller based his film, “Capote,” on Gerald Clarke’s 1988 biography. The movie concentrated on the ethical questions the author circumnavigated in pursuit of the new American novel. Plimpton’s book inspired Director Douglas McGrath to develop the same story as a brilliantly illustrated gossip column full of narcissism and contradiction.

Both movies concentrate on the author’s obsession with the 1959 murders of a rural Kansas family. Capote’s resulting book, In Cold Blood, won prizes, acclaim and added to the author’s already significant fortune.

What makes “Infamous” worth seeing as a companion parable to last year’s movie, is Director and Screenwriter Douglas McGrath’s take on Capote’s style, values and gift of gab. Like Capote’s literary masterwork, Plimpton’s pastiche of first-person recollections was part of the New

Journalism coming out of the ’60s. Dated now, interview-based journalism was what New York critic Renata Adler called “zippy prose about inconsequential people.”

Well, Capote was not inconsequential. He used his celebrity to get access – a persistent theme in his life and art. A master storyteller, Capote would drop a few Hollywood names and his circle of listeners – in New York or Holcomb, Kansas – leaned in for more. “Infamous” deftly shows both sides of Mr. C’s manipulative coin.

And he listened. When asked how he gets so many people to tell him secrets, Capote smugly replies: “I find out what they need and give it to them.”

The movie dryly concedes that what bored, wealthy New York women need is the same as hard-working Midwestern men – or hardened killers: a little gossip and comfort. And Truman is the guy to provide both. He was irresistible and entertaining.

The film begins with a stylish prologue that sets the scene for Capote’s triumphs: glitzy, upper-middle-class New York. Exotic drinks appear at El Morocco, one of the city’s trendier nightspots. Capote cozily sits with one of his many female friends, Babe Paley (Sigourney Weaver). She’s one of his inner circle, his “swans,” socially influential Park Avenue women. They drink, smoke, gossip and listen to Kitty Dean (Gwyneth Paltrow), a bored-but-glamorous lounge act who under-sings and throws away every line. In the midst of “What Is This Thing Called Love,” she balks, goes silent and drifts into an apparent memory of lost love. Then she snaps out of it and continues. No one knows if it’s fake or real.

The moment is emblematic. Watch for its echo later when Capote interrupts his dinner table conversation about Perry Smith, one of the killers. It’s a simple cinematic repetition that signals inspired filmmaking.

Throughout the movie, the glaze of New York society alternates with the plain brown wrapper of Kansas. The director employs swift cross cutting to draw the comparison. The same technique heightens Capote’s duplicity. More than one pair of scenes reveals the great writer’s willingness to lie or betray friends and confidants. One minute Capote swears secrecy, the next minute he’s spilling the corn.

“Infamous” is well constructed and brimming with first-rate performances. McGrath (“Hollywood Ending,” “Company Man,” “The Insider.”) has assembled a dream cast: Toby Jones’ indelible Capote, Sandra Bullock’s understated Nelle Harper Lee, and a stellar lineup of big names in secondary parts. The film generally avoids sentimentality and takes a jaundiced look at Capote’s rather shallow New York world and his tendency to manipulate everyone in it. Only Lee’s final comment in the epilogue drips a little syrup. We can forgive that, because it was consistent with her forgiving view of her childhood friend and his downward spiral at the end. •

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