"Rain is good," Truman Capote mumbles as a soft downpour begins while Dick Hickock and Perry Smith are preparing to climb the steps of the gallows. What he means is the rain will add some texture to the climactic ending that has delayed his novel -- the death of its main characters. Even though Hickcock and Smith were stone cold murderers of an entire Kansas farm family, Capote was seized with anxiety about wishing them dead so that his "non-fiction novel" about their crimes could end on a perfect artistic note. The author's ability to hear and recognize such a note is vividly portrayed in the opening scene of Doug McGrath's Infamous, where singer Peggy Lee (Gwyneth Paltrow, returning the favor for Emma) is inexplicably overcome by emotion while singing a ballad on stage. The lump in her throat stops her mid-croon, causing all heads in the room to turn. Capote's eyes glisten as he watches in silence while Lee composes herself. To him, this is just another interesting life moment that must be re-packaged into art.
If all of Infamous were as original and insightful as that early scene, it would be easier to shake off the extreme deja-vu experience of watching the film. Although its allegedly based on a different source book than its sister film Capote, released a year ago, the similarities between the two are so numerous as to warrant a shot-by-shot comparison. If you saw Capote, you've seen about 80 percent of Infamous, so it's a big compliment for me to say the remaining 20 percent is good enough to make it worth watching. Apart from Peggy Lee in the prologue, the only important character that didn't already get a once-over in Capote is grizzled old socialite Babe Paley, played here by Sigourney Weaver, who should work more often. Paley was one of Capote's famous "swans" who loaded him up with the gossip he would secretly funnel into his next book, Answered Prayers. He promised anyone who would listen that the book would be an American answer to Proust's Remembrances of Things Past, with a million salacious anecdotes and half-truths regurgitated as high art.