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Warner Home Video presents
"When Truman asked me to go to Kansas, it was deep calling to deep."
DVD ReviewYou can't help but feel badly for Douglas McGrath—it can't be any fun losing a game of Hollywood development chicken, and pretty much any discussion of his movie Infamous has to make some mention of Capote, which deals with almost the identical set of historical circumstances. (In Cold Blood is unquestionably an extraordinary book, but to see two movies about its writing released in two years seems excessive, even by the standards of Truman Capote.) If you've seen the Philip Seymour Hoffman film, it's impossible to watch this one and not compare and contrast, and Infamous in almost all aspects places second in this two-horse race.
By 1959, Capote had written celebrated books like Other Voices, Other Rooms and Breakfast at Tiffany's, though he may have been as highly regarded for his celebrity status as for his literary skills. This elfin bon vivant with the reedily high voice was always at the right parties, flattering the wealthy and beautiful and working overtime to burnish his own public image. An article buried in the front section of The New York Times caught his eye and changed his life: it described the murders of the four members of the Clutter family, in Holcomb, Kansas, by an intruder or intruders unknown. Capote immediately sensed the ripeness of the material, and what he initially envisioned as a profile for The New Yorker on how an unsolved crime sowed terror in a small town became a years-long, career-defining project for him.
McGrath, who wrote the screenplay and directed, worked from George Plimpton's oral history of Capote, and this film is as much about Truman's standing in New York society as it is about his pursuit of the big story. And this seems very much to the movie's detriment, as does McGrath's frequently madcap tone—he was Woody Allen's co-writer on films like Bullets Over Broadway, and seems to want to lend an air of high society hijinks to Capote's story. And ultimately you sense that he's not very interested in the Clutters, or in Kansas, or even in Capote's book—but these brutal slaughters are at the heart of the story, and become more of an inconvenience for McGrath than anything else. You almost sense that the filmmaker has chosen the wrong chapter in Capote's life for his movie—McGrath seems like he'd be much more at home with the fallout from Capote's La Côte Basque chapter of his unfinished novel, Answered Prayers. Essentially Capote bit all the diamond-clad hands that had been feeding him—his story consisted principally of thinly veiled recountings of embarrassing stories told to him in confidence, now published in the pages of Esquire and making fools of all of his rich friends. The breaches were irreparable; essentially Capote became incapable of finishing his book, and died in a sad haze and quick decline of alcoholism and drug addiction.
Instead, though, we get wacky little Truman with his society swans, all of whom are hammily overplayed, especially by Juliet Stevenson (as Diana Vreeland) and Sigourney Weaver (as Babe Paley). Toby Jones' performance as Capote has a weird, Frankensteiny quality to it—no doubt he's researched the documentary evidence to death and his likeness to the writer is a pretty fair one, but you never sense that the character is fully inhabited, and too often his Truman is an insufferable, charmless namedropper. Sandra Bullock gets at the dowdiness and decency of Nelle Harper Lee, Truman's childhood friend and companion in Kansas, but McGrath's script doesn't quite allow her to function as Truman's conscience. Jeff Daniels is standup as Alvin Dewey, who leads the investigation of the Clutter case. He's late to the party, but Daniel Craig is brooding and menacing as Perry Smith, one of the killers, and the second half of the film focuses on the relationship between him and Capote, much of which is highly speculative. Craig gets at Perry's dangerousness, but not his delicacy; on some level this has to be why his partner in crime, Dick Hickock, gets little more than a cameo in this telling of the tale.
The movie follows some of Capote's own structure, revealing to us only very late the particulars of the grisly murders, but by then the story has become an impossible muddle, sometimes a comedy of manners, sometimes a sick and twisted love story, occasionally a meditation on the confidence game of journalism. Unfortunately for all involved, it functions better as a companion piece than an entertainment, unless your appetite for all Capoteania is boundless.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Kind of a blotchy transfer, with a fair amount of debris. It's a shame that the colors aren't sharper, because it's clear that much of the production design—especially the reproduction of Diana Vreeland's legendary red living room—was painstaking.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 track can sound a little thin, though all the words in this dialogue-driven story are reasonably clear.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Painted Veil, For Your Consideration, Fur, The Prestige
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Douglas McGrath
Extras Review: McGrath is gracious and chatty on his commentary track, discussing the detailed physical reproduction of Capote's world, and offering some bon bons on casting—first Mark Wahlberg and then Mark Ruffalo had to bow out of playing Perry Smith, and Craig was a pre-Bond, last-minute replacement. He confirms the suspicion that the bits of characters talking directly to the camera are included because of the nature of Plimpton's book. His family would be proud of his manners, for when it comes to Bennett Miller's doppelganger of a film, McGrath abides by not saying anything at all if you cannot say something nice.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsTiming is everything, and this film suffers from the inevitable comparisons. Even on its own merits, however, it's uneven at very best, with some tonal shifts that are weirdly abrupt and inappropriate, and a handful of performances that never get beyond two dimensions.
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