No, you’re not seeing double. Less than a year after Philip Seymour Hoffman’s gong-grabbing turn as writer Truman Capote, here’s another biopic of the queeny short-arse behind Breakfast At Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood. Meteor, volcano and digi-insect-based blockbusters apart, the last time this happened was in the late ’80s when Dangerous Liaisons and Valmont offered different takes on the same French novel within months of each other. On that occasion it was the latter, directed by Milos Forman, that came off worse and, as polished and intelligent as Douglas McGrath’s film is, Infamous looks destined to share its fate.
It’s not just déjà vu that’s the problem. Though tackling exactly the same period in Truman’s life as Capote with a more or less identical cast of characters, Infamous is a far less substantial piece of work, with a performance from Jones that remains stubbornly rooted in caricature. The diminutive Brit is undoubtedly more of a physical match for Capote than Hoffman; indeed, the resemblance is uncanny. But where his American counterpart dug beneath the author’s surface affectations to reveal the tortured soul within, Jones’ predominantly comic turn only goes skin deep – a failing that becomes uncomfortably apparent when set beside Bullock’s rich and poignant portrayal of his friend and confidante, fellow author Lee.
McGrath’s film distances itself from Bennett Miller’s further by placing more emphasis on Capote’s New York milieu – beautifully established in an opening scene featuring Gwyneth Paltrow as a tearful torch singer who breaks down in the middle of a Cole Porter number – and by making his relationship with white-trash perpetrator Perry Smith (a dark-haired, too-assured Craig) overtly sexual. The writer/director also peppers the narrative with talking-head soundbites from Truman’s associates, ripely played by Sigourney Weaver, Isabella Rossellini and others, while playing up the comic clash between his flamboyant protagonist and Jeff Daniels’ dogged Kansas cop.
At the end of the day, though, this remains a weirdly empty exercise that feels more of a footnote to Capote than a worthy rival.
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On its own terms, this is an elegant, stimulating homage to a singular talent. Compared to Capote, though, it can't help but feel wanting.