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‘Infamous’ retells Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ story

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, by sheer coincidence, we have Douglas McGrath’s "Infamous," a movie strikingly different in tone and approach while remaining similar in story, beginning from the point that Capote discovers the newspaper story about the Kansas murders and ending when his masterpiece, the nonfiction novel "In Cold Blood," is completed.

The relatively unknown British actor Toby Jones — nothing less than a dead ringer for Capote — now plays the lead role. While Hoffman captured the writer’s essence, Jones performs a dead-on impersonation. Hoffman’sCapote merely looked down at his small-town subjects from his intellectual, big-city perspective, but this Capote rather enjoys shocking them and regaling them with tales of arm-wrestling Bogart. In that, "Infamous" is a good deal funnier.

"Infamous" spends a good deal more time in New York as well, showing Capote dining and sharing details with his magpie society ladies (Hope Davis, Isabella Rosellini, 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 Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock) eats sandwiches at a greasy spoon.

Catherine Keener received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Ms. Lee in "Capote," but Bullock more than matches her, finding a quiet, almost sad, intelligent humility.

McGrath’s major error in judgment comes with the silly "testimonials" spread throughout the picture; actors turn up in front of a curtain, relating bits of the story that McGrath was apparently unable to show visually, while a subtitle tells us who they’re supposed to be.

And Daniel Craig, playing the key role of murderer Perry Smith (with some kind of black shoe polish in his hair), doesn’t quite achieve the soulfulness of Clifton Collins Jr.’s performance in the same role in "Capote." Furthermore, that which "Capote" beautifully suggested in their scenes together, "Infamous" takes to the hilt.

All in all, both films can 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 review

Infamous ???½

Starring Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Sigourney Weaver, Juliet Stevenson, Hope Davis, Isabella Rossellini, Daniel Craig, Peter Bogdanovich, Jeff Daniels and Gwyneth Paltrow

Written by Douglas McGrath, based on a book by George Plimpton

Directed by Douglas McGrath

Rated R

Running time 118 minutes

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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