I just watched Infamous—some five years after seeing Capote. The two are not only Truman Capote biopics, but ones that focus on the same event: the writing of In Cold Blood. The similarities between the two films cannot easily be overstated. Since Capote beat Infamous to theaters by roughly a year, it seems to have done much better at the box office. This is not surprising. It also did better with the film ombudsmen, but I doubt this has a great deal to do with the release dates, despite Steve Persall’s unfortunate summation: “Call this race nearly a draw, with [Capote] simply crossing the finish line first.”
There has certainly been a little reluctance to like Infamous too much after so much had been made of Capote, and particularly Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance in the title role. After labeling it a great film (!), it must have been a little humiliating to have another set of filmmakers come along and make a film (despite comments to the contrary) that everyone agrees is pretty much as good. In the end, all the reviews I have seen are the same as Persall: both films are of equal quality but I’m going to put a negative spin on Infamous, just as I put a positive spin on Capote.
The most important reason that Capote is considered better is that it is far more vague. I really didn’t like Capote very much—so much so that I was reluctant to watch Infamous. The film can be summed up thus: Capote is conflicted about his role as an artist and a human—but we don’t have any insights into that conflict. In the end, the portrait that it paints of its main character is decidedly superficial. Of course, this kind of filmmaking is great for actors because audiences will naturally fill in the subtext. “He’s not showing any emotion: what great acting!”
In contrast, Infamous does have something to say, and as a result is a far more watchable film. However, because the script tells us what is going on, we have a decent idea what the characters are thinking. This has led many ombudsmen to call Toby Jones’ Capote mere impression while Hoffman’s was “acting!” This is rubbish, of course. Jones’ Capote is clearly better, but this is not because Hoffman’s is bad. Based upon the performances, it is hard to imagine that either film would have changed in quality if the stars had been reversed.
It is hard to understand how two groups were independently convinced to invest roughly ten million dollars to make a film about Truman Capote. It is even harder to understand why one of the films went on to make a lot of money. The personal investment would be better spent on reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Again.