Monday, November 20, 2006

Infamous (Douglas McGrath, 2006)

Looked at Douglas McGrath's Infamous and found the differences between this and Bennet Miller's film fascinating.

Toby Jones more closely resembles Capote physically, and I think he has less trouble getting that thin high voice right. We see more of Capote's life in New York, hear more of the famous Capote wit (funny, but that wit was at its best I thought not in New York but in the penitentiary, where Capote manages to dish out as good as he receives from convicts (it always bothered me in Miller's version that Capote wasn't similarly taunted)). The use of so many present-day Hollywood celebrities didn't feel distracting--actually, it was fascinating, all that star power acting as a metaphor for the kind of celebrities Capote gathered around himself then. Bet most people don't know Bogdanovich, or care, but it tickled me pink that McGrath put him on similar footing with the others...

What in Miller's film was subtext and suggestion in McGrath's blooms into outright passion--or at least passion as expressed in an actual kiss. Easy to argue that Miller did better through suggestion (I did think he did very well), but McGrath's path towards that kiss is filled with considerably more electricity--Daniel Craig's Perry Smith is a spikily unapproachable man, and putting the slighter Jones in the same cell with him is like tossing a lamb in a lion cage; you wait for the pounce, and the bloody feeding (Hoffman might have given Craig more of a fight) . That said Jones' Capote displays enough nimble wit and resourcefulness that the situation doesn't seem too lopsided; part of the film's appeal is in seeing how he is able to handle Perry (barely), and how getting what he wants costs him so.

Problem and glory of the film is that kiss; it dissipates the tension, the same time you appreciate just how much was generated in the first half. The rest--well, I won't say McGrath abandons the rest of the picture altogether, but I think you can see that it doesn't hold as much interest for him as the earlier portion. Maybe the truest advantage of Miller's film is that it sustains the tension all the way up to Perry's execution, giving us the full extent of Capote's dilemma (delay the execution of two men he may / may not care about, and he may never finish his long awaited book) and manages to include that nice touch of Capote finishing Perry's breath for him (McGrath has Capote running out of the building before the trapdoor drops).

That said, McGrath's Capote has a fine aftermath, of the writer opening Perry's chest, and looking through the things inside (never thought the sight of a dictionary could be so inexpressibly moving).

Did we need three versions of the same story? What I found fascinating about Capote was that it told a story missing in Brooks' adaptation of the original novel, the story of Capote's role in the whole thing; what I found fascinating about McGrath's version was that it outlined (true or not) the full extent of the feelings that developed between Capote and Perry, and why it mattered so to Capote that he's essentially ignoring a man to death. Equally interesting are the three different Perrys: Clifton Collins is a shy lamb--just the kind of sacrifice Capote would find painful to offer at the altar of his masterpiece; Daniel Craig is a more sexually charismatic creature (despite Hickock's observation that he rarely looks at women, or is willing to share them), more overtly dangerous. The two, however, pale in comparison to Robert Blake--clearly intelligent, clearly sensitive, clearly psychotic.

Someone noted that all three films form a six-hour version of Rashomon, something that of itself is not entirely without value. All that's needed now, though, is a fourth version telling the whole story of Dick Hickock, the jealous, jilted admirer...


Anonymous said...

this is a relatively new film. i assume you are based in the philippines/manila? where did you watch it? please reply. :)

Noel Vera said...

Hopefully it comes soon to Manila, maybe on DVD.