The poor and unfortunate "other Truman Capote movie," Infamous lived up to its name in a most unintended way when producers realized it was scheduled for release right around the same time as another movie about the exact same subject matter, the Oscar-winning 2005 film, Capote. Infamous' release was delayed a year, and even after it came out in 2006, it never earned anything close to the buzz of its doppelganger. The lamentable result of bad luck and bad timing? Maybe. But more likely, Infamous got the dirty end of the stick because it just isn't that good, with or without comparison.
Infamous clearly aims to be accessible, playing up Capote's flamboyance and charm with a colorful portrayal by the real-life Capote look- and sound-alike Toby Jones, whose performance in and of itself is quite commendable. The problems lie mostly in the script and the direction of Douglas McGrath, who can't seem to find the slightest amount of nuance in the whole production. Things are swanky and fun in the lushly art-directed setting of Manhattan's Upper East Side, but as the author travels to Kansas and becomes entrenched in the lives of the death-row inmates he's writing his masterpiece about, you can't help but notice how heavy-handed the film is in illustrating Capote's conflicted feelings. McGrath (also the screenwriter) spells out every important thought or feeling in simple and almost insultingly literal terms in the dialogue, leaving absolutely nothing to subtext. Daniel Craig, who plays Perry Smith, the killer Capote becomes quite intimate with, is the only actor in the movie who actually achieves some compelling realness and subtlety, but he is forced to stoop to the most condescending level of all when Smith addresses his many devoted letters to Capote directly into the camera. It's even more awkward than it sounds, and the technique comes off as amateurish rather than deliberate, as if the filmmakers honestly had no idea how hokey it would look.
In fairness, however, it might still have been deliberate. Giving the film the absolutely most forgiving benefit of the doubt, it looks like maybe these cheesy choices were originally part of a plan to stylize the movie in the fashion of the swaggering 1960s literati, its characters extolling their feelings with the romance of Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly. That is certainly what it feels like the filmmakers are attempting in the opening mockumentary-style scene, where the cast of characters that make up Capote's highball-swigging Manhattan entourage are interviewed on the topic of their friend as if on an episode of Charlie Rose. The film repeatedly returns to this mysterious interview session, especially at the end, and like poor Craig, each of the subjects frequently break their gaze with the imaginary off-camera documentarian and turn to look directly into the lens for no apparent reason. The way every character development is summed up, simplified, and spoken out loud ends up making the whole film feel chincy, more like a TV movie than a feature film. It does seem like the filmmakers had quite a quandary on their hands, trying to create a sense of implicit meaning within a stylistic scheme that's so inherently explicit. Maybe it's a conundrum that would've gotten the best of any production team, but sadly for Infamous, it certainly got the best of this one.