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Truman Capote, that is, during the six years it took to research and write his "nonfiction novel," In Cold Blood. Regardless of how true a story, it is truly a good story, whose claim on our attention is not that it's factual but that it's fascinating. It is the story, at bottom, of an artist at work; a writer in pursuit of a subject; an established novelist, a Manhattan dandy transplanted from the Deep South, who, for reasons unclear, clips out an item from The New York Times of November 15, 1959, about the massacre of a family in rural Kansas, and who promptly gets the go-ahead from the editor at The New Yorker to hop a train to the scene of the crime. The story, then, of an exotic fruit in the Midwest breadbasket, with his nasally lisping castrato drawl and his ankle-length camel's-hair coat and flowing boa-like scarf. ("Bergdorf's," he volunteers, fingering the scarf under the inquisitive gaze of an agent from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, who, tugging on his hat brim when taking his leave, says in turn, "Sears, Roebuck.") The story of a man who, in the end, fits his chosen title as well as either the murderers or their executioners. It is not a story with a moral to it, although some viewers will feel compelled, for their own comfort, to draw one; it is simply, and complicatedly, the story of an artist at work. In its general outline -- what price art? -- it may be a bit old-hat; in its particulars it is like-new. Philip Seymour Hoffman, even after you have gotten over the initial funniness of his celebrity impersonation, serves as our constant reminder to take the story with a grain of salt, to put quotation marks around the name of Capote. His whole-souled commitment to the part, his concentration, his emotion, his expressiveness, his nuance, his multiplicity -- all of that helps to make a good story better. Whether or not truer. With Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper, Clifton Collins, Jr., and Bruce Greenwood; written by Dan Futterman; directed by Bennett Miller. (2005) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated R
"The Price of Art"


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