In a kind of back-handed compliment to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, I didn’t watch one of his films recently because I’d already seen it. Instead I watched Infamous, the Other mid-2000s biopic of Truman Capote focusing on the circumstances leading to his writing of In Cold Blood, a book I loved and reviewed about five years ago. Infamous‘s release came the year after Capote (but the same calendar year as Hoffman won his Oscar for the title role) and obviously this left it somewhat overshadowed, even in my belated viewing–it was at least three years after its release that I saw Capote, and about the same again before I got around to this. Maybe that’s just the kind of effect that Hoffman had.
All of which is preamble to saying Poor Toby Jones. Poor, great Toby Jones. Coming in at a diminutive 5′ 5″ to Hoffman’s generally strapping 5′ 9″, just looking at Jones you see that this really is a role he was born to play (even if he too would have had to look down to meet his 5′ 3″ subject face-to-face). Physically then, this was a vastly more transformative task for Hoffman than Jones because, even allowing for Hoffman’s blonde paleness, there’s no denying that Jones just looks like Capote. It would be easy to assume that he already sounded like him too, and that it required greater effort for Hoffman to tame his rich, vibrant voice to achieve Capote’s mewling tones, but (and this is true generally of Toby Jones I think) the looks are very much deceiving; despite voicing the similarly squeaky house elf in the Harry Potter movies, Jones himself is quite pleasant to listen to.
Hoffman was great in his role, and his Oscar was a fair win, but my feeling is that Jones’ rendition is the better. Though it’s been a while, my recollection of Capote is that it concentrates on his aloof, scathing wit, his self-centredness and the manipulative way he went about achieving his goals, often seeming a master of the situation even when at a disadvantage–at least until it comes to the painfully drawn out resolution of In Cold Blood‘s own story. In Jones’ hands, Capote comes off as less powerful; still buoyant in the face of adversity, witty and driven, but less iconic than Hoffman made him, more relatably normal despite his obvious quirks.
Anyway, as far as the actual film is concerned, Infamous is a good piece of work… but, overall, now I have to say I think Capote is the better. There are aspects here that work in its favour and against it. I think some of the storytelling is more subtle, or at least is less quick to rush to the goal; for example, in Infamous the erosion of small-town distrust played more convincingly for not being presented as performance immediately rewarded (see below). Plus, it enjoys the authenticity bought simply by Toby Jones’ freedom to inhabit the world as a strange, dwarfish figure loomed over by housewives and prison guards alike.
On the other hand, the “fake interview” talking-head asides that feature near the start and end put me off quite badly (I didn’t like them in Frost/Nixon either), but the greatest stumbling block for me was Daniel Craig in the role of Perry Smith, the murderer with whom Capote develops a powerful connection. His is a vital piece of the puzzle but, unlike Clifton Collins Jnr’s turn in Capote, I was never convinced by Craig which critically undermines this new vulnerability provoked in Capote (also because he looked like a waxwork from Madame Tussauds; I kept picturing Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s weird Bruce Willis make-up job in Looper) .
Aside from this, the supporting cast was good–though despite being studded with cameos maybe not as good as in Capote, with Catherine Keener’s Harper Lee topping Sandra Bullock’s for me–but enough about that. When it comes to portraying scenes from the life of Truman Capote, I think you have to go to the men himself:
Toby Jones’s Truman Capote:
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Truman Capote:
Truman Capote’s Truman Capote:
Yeah, Toby Jones did it best.
Of the two of them.