Review: Infamous (2006)

Infamous (2006)

Directed by: Douglas McGrath | 110 minutes | drama, biography | Actors: Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Daniel Craig, Lee Pace, Jeff Daniels, Juliet Stevenson, Hope Davis, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sigourney Weaver, Isabella Rossellini, Peter Bogdanovich, John Benjamin Hickey, Michael Panes, Frank G. Curcio, Bethlyn Gerard, Libby Villari, Joey Basham, Marian Aleta Jones, Terri Zee, Richard Jones, Brian Shoop, Brady Coleman, Ray Gestaut, Lee Ritchey, Brett Brock, Leticia Trejo, Brady Hender, Zachary Burnett, Brent McCoy, Gail Cronauer, Austin Chittim, Morgan farris

As any film buff knows, it is sometimes difficult to judge a film purely on its own merits. A film is rooted in a certain tradition and inevitably has the necessary reference points. In the case of the American production ‘Infamous’ it is even impossible to avoid a comparison. ‘Infamous’ from 2006 is based on the same source material as ‘Capote’ from 2005. Given the masterful quality of ‘Capote’, any comparison with ‘Infamous’ seems to be in favor of the latter.

Fortunately, in practice this is quite easy. Surprisingly, the comparison between the actors does no harm at all. Although Philip Seymour Hoffman landed a great title role in ‘Capote’, the acting of the unknown Toby Jones in ‘Infamous’ is hardly inferior to this. Even more surprising is Sandra Bullock’s mature appearance as Capote’s intelligent childhood friend Nelle Harper Lee. Finally, Daniel Craig once again proves his versatility in the role of murderer Perry Smith.

Although the subject matter differs somewhat, both films are equally interesting in this area. Where ‘Capote’ mainly explores the ethical boundaries of the artist, ‘Infamous’ is about the way in which a writer can change through the handling of his material. While Truman Capote is still an eccentric artist in the beginning of ‘Infamous’ who indulges in New York society life, after meeting murderer Perry Smith, he struggles with feelings that he can hardly control. Here we see the artist as an intermediary, who exposes painful matters but pays a high price for it. In that light, the opening scene – Gwyneth Paltrow singing a sad love song – takes on a completely new meaning.

While ‘Infamous’ hardly scores less than its predecessor in terms of subtlety, weight and intelligence, it is a lot worse in terms of dramatization. The relationship between Capote and murderer Smith is presented here a little too easily and explicitly. Also the shifting of the tone, from cheerful and carefree to tragic and heavy, could have been a little more balanced. The best illustration of that weaker dramatization is the scene in which the murderers are hanged. While ‘Capote’ (more or less) suffice with the gruesome consummation, ‘Infamous’ uses a striking artifice; an artifice that may summon the handkerchiefs, but which also does too much violence to the heaviness of the scene.

Since a comparison is inevitable in this case, you have to conclude that ‘Infamous’ is less impressive than ‘Capote’. But because sometimes you want to judge a film on its own merits, the second conclusion is that ‘Infamous’ is an intelligent, well-acted, profound, humorous and thematically interesting film. Those who have enjoyed ‘Capote’ will undoubtedly also enjoy ‘Infamous’. With this, director Douglas McGrath has successfully completed an almost impossible task and only a deep bow is appropriate.

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