More human than Truman

Infamous reassembles the gay love story between the lines of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

BY Alexander Cho

October 10 2006 12:00 AM ET

There’s
something both familiar and unsettling about the first word
that comes out of actor Toby Jones’s mouth as
Truman Capote in the new film Infamous.
He’s at a swank New York City nightclub with one of
his society-lady “swans,” Babe Paley
(played by Sigourney Weaver). The two are doing the
meet-and-greet, making their way to their prime table, and
just as they sit down Capote waves his hand, looks almost
directly at the camera, and squeaks,
“Hi.”

It’s the
Capote voice and manner we all know. But with this one word,
Jones hints that somewhere below the seamless performance
that was Truman Capote in real life lies a sensitivity
we’re not used to seeing. It’s a tiny
glimpse that this Capote story is going to be different.

It would have to
be, since Infamous follows exactly the same
period in his life as last year’s Capote, the
acclaimed film fueled by Philip Seymour
Hoffman’s Oscar-winning lead performance.
(Infamous was made at the same time but delayed by
the studio when Capote was released first.)

Capote, the
celebrated author and toast of New York City’s
café society, takes an extended trip to a small
town in Kansas where an entire family has been
murdered. He camps out with the convicted murderers, Richard
Hickock and Perry Smith, and gets them to spill all the gory
details. He emerges seven years later with the novel
In Cold Blood, which skyrockets him to
international acclaim and makes him a very wealthy man.
And he never again completes a book-length work.

“I came at
this movie to answer a question,” says
Infamous writer-director Douglas McGrath
(Nicholas Nickleby, Emma). “What
happened to Truman Capote after In Cold Blood? If you
look at his life before, it’s almost an
unbroken series of successes and achievements. From
that point on, everything goes wrong for him for the
next 20 years of his life before he dies. Professional
failure and humiliation. Terrible public
embarrassments. I kept thinking, What
happened?”

According to
McGrath, the answer is simple: Capote was in love with
Smith, and it shattered him to see Smith executed.

As McGrath tells
it, Perry Smith, played by Bond-to-be Daniel Craig, is a
hulking, working-class thinking man. Capote, who comes to
Kansas full of New York City attitude (Babe Paley
sends him a can of Beluga caviar as a care package the
first week), quickly learns that in order to crack
Smith’s shell, he’s going to have to let his
own guard down. In doing so, he is confronted with a
reality he’s never faced: The shiny veneer that
is Truman Capote ceases to matter inside a Kansas jail cell.
Smith and Capote develop an attachment to each other,
and in one surprising scene they have a loaded
physical exchange, including a prolonged kiss.

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