Infamous: A Startingly Touching Portrait of a Troubled Soul

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The film Infamous, released approximately a year after the more famous Capote, is a startingly touching portrait of a troubled man and his divided feelings for a murderer.  As most readers will be aware, Truman Capote, one of the foremost writers and intellectuals of the mid-20th Cenury, spent a great deal of his middle life researching and working on his novel/true story In Cold Blood, and in the process fell in love with one of the subjects of his book.  The film portrays the years Capote spent researching his book and depicts his growing affection for one of the murderers, concluding with his devastation at the execution of the man he has grown to love.  With its combination of the touchingly effeminate yet resilient Capote (portrayed by Toby Jones) and the vibrantly masculine yet vulnerable Perry, the film breathes new life and brings tragic force to an oft-told tale.

Toby Jones is a subtly dynamic force as Truman Capote, for he seems to not so much be acting as actually channeling the essence of the character he represents.  Jones captures not only Capote’s physical appearance and mannerisms–right down to the unusual way Capote had of speaking–but also his intense affection for Perry Smith.  As you watch the two interact with one another, you cannot help but feel the pull of a romance bubbling just beneath the surface.  At the last tender moment before Perry’s execution, the convicted criminal places a tender kiss on the writer’s cheek, and it seems to be more than Truman can handle.  Rather than watching his love perish at the end of the hangman’s noose, Capote runs into the rain, consumed by overwhelming sorrow.  This poignant scene highlights Jones’ acting ability, as well as the essential humanity and vulnerability that lies at the heart of even the most glamorous personality.  In perhaps the most touching scene in the entire film, Capote goes through Perry’s belongings after his death, with Perry’s recorded voice playing in the background, highlighting the utter emptiness he feels at the death of one he had come to love so much.

Daniel Craig brings a brooding, masculine energy to the role of Perry, but he effectively tempers it with moments of genuine and almost heart-wrenching softness and tenderness.  Although rougher around the edges than his counterpart in Capote, Craig’s presentation of Perry is nevertheless full of a particular type of raw emotion.   This is especially remarkable considering the moments of tenderness, when he reveals his troubled past and his growing affection for Capote.  This is certainly not what one expects of a masculine presence of this sort, but the presence of such depth merely underscores the essential tragedy of the story.  When he plays the guitar and sings a slow, sad love song into the recorder that Capote has sent him, one can feel the emotional devastation looming on the horizon.  By the time of his execution, the film has led the viewer to see him not as a murderer, but as a victim of sadness and loneliness.  The fact that he has grown to love Capote, and that Capote has grown to love him, underscores the essential despondence of the tale.

The combination of these opposing gendered forces allows the audience to gain a deeper and more fulfilling understanding of Capote’s emotions than other film adaptations.  Whereas Capote merely suggested that the affection shared by Perry and Capote was more than merely friendship, Infamous leaves the audience in no doubt.  The overtly romantic nature of their relationship makes the story an ultimately tragic one of unsatisfied love.  No matter how much one might wish for Truman and Perry to run off into the sunset into some better place, one where Perry is not a murderer, where they are not constrained by the rule of law, it can never be.  Perry is destined for death, and so is the love they share.  In the end, Infamous is about the folly and the tragedy of humanity and he ways that even the best and most loving of relationships can falter and ultimately fail in the face of society.

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