Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Price of Verity

I got my training in college as a film critic, which is one of those terrible things one admits long after the fact, like inhaling and adultery. I don’t think I’m nearly as critical as I used to be, although as I get older there are simply things I won’t bring myself to see. I’d like to aspire to the Barbara Woodhouse school of criticism: No Bad Films. You have to offend my sensibilities deeply for me to hate your film. That having been said, I will write the occasional small film review when I feel the need to.

We saw Infamous last night, and my husband and I think it’s a better film than Capote. Capote nearly collapses under its serious pretensions, where Infamous is darkly comic and fuchsia-tinged. And Toby Jones is not trying hard, like Philip Seymour Hoffman, to be Truman Capote, he just is. He’s Harper Lee’s childhood friend, the “pocket Merlin”—small, gossipy, outrageous, funny as hell, and charming. You do not believe for a minute Holcomb, Kansas will open up to him, but he wins them over with the equivalent of Dill’s story of how he won Jem’s missing pants in a poker game. And yet, vying for screen space is the story of In Cold Blood, as serious and graphic as it is in Capote. But in this film, that stark story is set in dichotomy with Capote’s pink-tinged social whirl, and ultimately makes this Truman Capote much more tragic.

Daniel Craig is amazing (why wasn’t this guy nominated for an Oscar?) as Perry Smith, dangerous, charismatic, and as engaging as Jones. The conflict is the same, how far will Capote go, how far will he get emotionally involved with Smith to get the story, and does it bother him at all to manipulate Smith, even to wish for his death so his book can be released. In Capote, you see Hoffman ego-driven. In Infamous, you see Jones reporting it all back, deliciously, to society friends.

I wondered how they would handle Smith’s killing of Mr. Clutter, the father. In Capote, it is a straight chilling flashback with voiceover: “I thought he was a ...very nice...gentle man. And I thought so right up till I slit his throat.” In Infamous, you see Capote trying that line out on his various friends over lunch until he’s tweaked it to his writerly satisfaction. Infamous captures the experience that all writers who take from life eventually have—being found out by the people you write about. How much are you willing to cajole, massage, and eventually exploit your friends? What price Verity?

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