Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Federal Budget



It's not often that we get to see two movies released in the same year, telling the same story, with the same real-life characters, and two entirely different casts of actors and producers.

Such was the case over the past 18 months with Capote and Infamous.

Both are excellent films telling and re-telling the tale of American writer Truman Capote's obsession with the murder of the Clutter family in rural Kansas. Capote was already the toast of New York literary society for, among other things, "Breakfast at Tiffany's," when he found himself drawn to Holcomb to research the effect a gruesome murder might have on a small American town.

The result was "In Cold Blood."

That book was itself made into an extraordinary film in 1967, in which the part of Perry Smith, one of the 2 killers, was played to chilling and powerful and strangely sympathetic effect by Robert Blake, a movie actor for almost 70 years, who was himself recently charged (and acquitted) with murder.

"Capote" was nominated for 5 Academy Awards; "Infamous" for none. Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Oscar for the title role, predictably and deservedly so. Toby Jones, an actor who looks curiously almost identical to Mr. Capote, and who was first-rate as a supporting player in "The Painted Veil, is also quite wonderful in "Infamous."

But, whether it is the direction or the whole tone of this second movie or that Mr. Jones, as good as he is, simply does not have the chops that Mr. Hoffman so obviously does, his portrayal doesn't have the weight that the Oscar-winner does.

In Capote, Catherine Keener plays Harper Lee, Capote's good friend and the author of the iconic "To Kill a Mockingbird," and she's terrific. But so is Sandra Bullock playing the exact same role in "Infamous." With no make-up and subdued speech and movements, Bullock gives one of her very best, and entirely unheralded, performances.

Then, you can compare and reach your own conclusions about Chris Cooper vs. Jeff Daniels as Alvin Dewey, the local cop. I think Jeff Daniel's is a superior actor with a much broader range than Mr. Cooper, and I'm often amazed at what he brings to the party. Remember that this is the guy who stood toe-to-toe with Jim Carrey in "Dumb & Dumber."

John Forsythe, who achieved household fame for "Charlie's Angels," may have been the best Alvin Dewey in "In Cold Blood," 40 years ago.

The most astonishing casting, however, is James Bond - Daniel Craig - as Perry Smith. This performance alone is worth the rental fee. You'll be surprised.

Most of you have seen "Capote." Take a night off and rent "Infamous," for the curious but rewarding experience of "deja...what-a-minute!"