The elephant in the room first: Capote is a better film than Infamous. The first film's screenplay is surer in its intent and more focused, the moral stakes are higher, and there's simply no way to compare Toby Jones' skilled mimcry to Philip Seymour Hoffman's colossal embodiment of the Self-Destroying Artist.

On the other hand, Infamous has a better feel for the era, and every performance outside of the lead is an improvement, if for no other reason than the roles have been fleshed-out a bit more. So, you take what you can get.

And that is all the more I shall compare the two.

Telling the now-familiar story of how Truman Capote spent four years of his life to write In Cold Blood, the true story of a Kansan murder, Infamous is primarily a story about gossip and scandal. There is no clearer indication of this than the repeated insertion throughout the film of interview-style footage of Capote's confidantes and friends discussing his life and work. And throughout the film, there are constant little references to his unique ability to glean information from people by various rhetorical tricks; it is suggested that this is why he is so suited to the task of telling the story of an entire town, and the two reticent murderers.

For a very long time, it's all very playful and buoyant. Capote is a wit and a delight and he moves among witty and delightful people, and the film takes great joy in alternately mocking and lionizing the foibles of the rich socialites who take up about half of the running time. Hope Davis gives her best performance in ages as fashion icon Slim Keith, the one woman who knows how to play Truman, rather than the other way around; Peter Bogdanovich is charming and goofy as publisher Bennett Cerf. Other performances by the likes of Sigourney Weaver and Juliet Stevenson are a bit more uneven.

The film's downfall is predicted, accidentally I think, in its otherwise completely pointless first scene. For no good goddamn reason, Truman and Babe Paley (Weaver), wife of the owner of CBS, are at a dinner being entertained by Gwyneth Paltrow as fictional Peggy Lee knockoff Kitty Dean. Kitty sings "What Is This Thing Called Love?" for a time, becomes very sad and lonely during the bridge, and then picks herself up, but still seems kind of sad. This is, I guess, a metaphor for Capote's life, but it doesn't work. Instead, it mirrors the film itself: bubbly and fun, then miserable and totally out of tone, then it's too late to fix it.

I lied when I said I wouldn't compare the two films anymore, and I'm sorry. Capote is not fun for one moment. It is a story about a monstrous person who uses everyone around him for his art, the end. Infamous, on the other hand, decides late in the game to become that story, and it's a shocking misstep. The beginning is too gossipy to bear the weight of its drama later on, and the drama falls hideously flat.

It is known that there was a strange intimacy between Capote and the killers, which Capote chose to render as a one-sided infatuation that the author deliberately exploited. In Infamous, it's much closer to a mutal affection between Truman and Perry Smith (Daniel Craig, who really does a lot more with a much better role than Clifton Collins did in the earlier film), and it's not really as interesting. And even if it was interesting, it still wouldn't make the end, where Truman gets weepy over his dead not-lover, part of the same movie where Truman is the Queen Bitch of New York.

Capote is very gay in this film. There, I said it. It's not really a good or a bad thing per se (although it's one of the things I appreciated most about the first film, that his sexuality was not an issue so much as it was a tool for him to manipulate others, like everything in his life). It's just that the film trowels it on so heavily, and in stereotyped ways. During his initial visit to Holcomb, Kansas, seemingly every resident of that town takes a separate opportunity to goggle at his outfits and ask if he's a woman. Once is cute, ten times is frustrating. It's part of the film's overall schema of turning Capote into a cartoon character, which is helped along a great deal by Toby Jones. He's a brilliant mimic of the author - more than Hoffman - but there's nothing beneath the mimicry: he nails the voice and the mincing, and calls it a day. There is no internal Truman, which works during the shallow gossip scenes, but ruins the dramatic In Cold Blood sequences entirely.

Both as a character and an actor, Sanda Bullock as Nelle Harper Lee is rather shockingly the highlight of Infamous. In the past couple of years, Bullock has suddenly become a very good actress, and this is her very best role to date. She's the moral center of a film where morality is an afterthought at best, but she carries it off, and the only drama in the film that works, works because of her.

There's not much else to say. Director Douglas McGrath is no cinematic visionary, and the film looks like someone pointed a camera at the actors and said "action," hoping for the best. It's not ugly or bad, just indifferent. The production design is extraordinary; after a good few years for seeing the 1950s represented on film with encyclopedic accuracy, it's nice to see such a loving depiction of the early '60s. This again brings us to why the only parts of the film that work are the gossip sequences: Kansas farmhouses are timeless, but New York salons in 1961 are very specific indeed, and seeing them brought to life brings in a whole package of expectations about what is to occur within. The editing is too clever by half, and how precisely this is the case I will leave as an exercise for those who see the film and know editing.

I feel very sorry for the makers of this film, who must have shat themselves when it became apparent that there were two Capote films and theirs was the second one, but that doesn't excuse the fact that Infamous, on its own, isn't all that's good. Perhaps I was just spoiled by Hoffman's performance last year, and expect too much of a minor little actor like Toby Jones. Perhaps shallow fun is all I should ask for out of a story about a quadruple homicide. Wait, what?