There would be an assumption that in the wake of the critical success of "Truman," that another film looking at the story of how Truman Capote came to write his classic non-fiction novel "In Cold Blood" is as unnecessary as was the made for television remake of the 1967 film based on the book that featured the stunning black & white cinematography of Conrad Hall. But director Douglas McGrath ("Company Man," "Nicholas Nickerby") is not exactly covering the same ground. Whereas "In Cold Blood" was the story of the 1959 murders of the Cutter family in Holcomb, Kansas by Dick Hickok and Perry Smith, "Capote" tells the story of how Capote came to write the book. The former ends with the hangings of Hickok and Smith, while the latter ends with Capote having attained the pinnacle of success in American letters only to never come close to such heights ever again. "Capote" finds an obvious connection between the two, but does not really provide a definitive answer to nail down the cause and effect. In "Infamous," McGrath offers a more specific reason for why Capote was never the same after writing "In Cold Blood."
One again Truman Capote (Toby Jones) sees an article about the murder of a Kansas farm family, goes off to see how such a horrendous crime affects a small American farm, and decides that he needs to write a book. Despite the fact that he is like nothing they have ever seen in Kansas, Capote is able to ingratiate himself with Alvin Dewey (Jeff Daniels), the lead investigator for the local policy. More importantly, when Hickok (Lee Pace) and Smith (Daniel Craig) are captured, Capote is able to interview them the murderers in prison and attend their execution. Ultimately, it is the relationship between Capote and Smith that McGrath sees as being the key to the mystery of what happened to Truman Capote after writing "In Cold Blood."
Of course there is the delicious irony that Capote is being hoisted by his own petard here. McGrath developed his screenplay not from Capote's novel but rather from George Plimpton's book, "Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career." McGrath's attempt is justified by a couple of key details in the film regarding what is presented as evidence of Capote's creativity in writing "In Cold Blood." The first is the most repeated line from the book, which is Perry Smith's statement: "I didn't want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat." The film makes it clear that while Smith might have made some comment along those lines, the final polished wording of the quotation was the result of Capote's refinement. The second key point is when Smith offers an apology for his crime when he speaks his last words at his execution. Capote is seen in the film urging him to do so, but Alvin Dewey "testifies" in the film that Smith said nothing on his way to the gallows. Your second time through this 2006 film you are strongly urged to listen to the commentary track by McGrath, who shows up to explain and defend his film, and not just to recall anecdotes about making it. I rounded up on the rating of this DVD just because of his first rate commentary.
There is another irony in that Capote goes to Kansas with his close childhood friend Nelle Harper Lee (Sandra Bullock), since Lee wrote even less than Capote after the monumental success of "To Kill a Mockingbird." It could easily be argued that neither one was ever going to come close, so living on their laurels made a sort of sense. But if Lee only had one novel in her, Capote had written "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and other works that suggested a long and distinguished literary career should have been his legacy. So while it is too bad that Lee never wrote another great American novel, there is much more of a sense of tragedy that Capote was broken by the experience of writing the book for which he will always be remembered.
"Infamous" is more about the celebrity of Capote, and not just because the film includes "interviews" with the likes of Babe Paley (Sigourney Weaver) and Bennett Cerf (Peter Bogdanovich). Jones' Capote speaks a lot more than Philip Seymour Hoffman did in "Capote," but then I felt Hoffman won the Oscar for key moments of silence in that film (e.g., when he sees the bodies of the Clutters at the funeral home). Hoffman is 4 1/2 inches taller than the 5' 5" Jones and this film takes much more advantage of the leading actor's shorter height to emphasize the writer as a strange little man who survives and flourishes in the big world because of the force of his intellect and personality. The idea of seeing one film rather than the other strikes me as silly because they each stand on their own and even after watching not only both of these films but the original "In Cold Blood" (not to mention reading the book), you are still not going to have a full picture of the what really happened and how these people came to be who they were and meet their respective fates. But you will have plenty to think about.