Sunday, February 02, 2014

Five Essential Philip Seymour Hoffman Film Performances

By now, everybody who is on the internet today knows: Philip Seymour Hoffman, the brilliant stage and screen actor, the first (and here I'm stealing a tribute from Jacob Levy) Generation Xer to gain undisputed membership in the critical Hollywood pantheon, is dead of a drug overdose. And I should be--and on a certain level, truly am--moved by a sorrow and empathy for his own struggles and for those family and friends and loved ones who will feel pain and loss at his death most deeply, I have to admit it: my primary feeling here is frustration. Idiot!, I want to cry: look what the world of stage and screen has lost!

Well, that's my hang-up; for the moment, the best thing to do is pay tribute to an immensely talented man. I never saw him live, though I have friends who did, and said his command to the stage was tremendous. What I can do, though, is show off his command of the screen. He was called a "character actor," which too often is a kind of back-hand compliment, the sort of thing you say about a journeyman performer who will take on, invest themselves in, and bring to life small roles, primarily because they aren't good-looking enough to ever be given a starring role. In response to that, let me suggest five performances of Hoffman's that every fan of great film acting ought to see. Some are big roles, some are small, but all, in one way or another, made this man a star. The one thing they have in common is that they are all conversations--Hoffman's character talking, arguing, challenging, insulting, inquiring with other actors, communicating both what is being said, and what isn't. Tremendous, tremendous stuff. In chronological order:

As Scott J. in Boogie Nights (1997), a confused, self-loathing, yet also innocently hopeful gay man:

As Lester Bangs in Almost Famous (2000), the lonely rock critic who is, as both the protagonist and the audience realize almost too late, the moral center of rock and roll:

As Dean Trumbell in Punch-Drunk Love (2002), the only man who has the balanced fury capable of actually shouting down and intimidating Adam Sandler in the midst of one of his patented rants.

As Truman Capote in the glorious character study Capote (2005), playing the title character whose wit, style, subtlety, and reputation is so inoffensively awesome, that he can that he can get anyone to eat out of his hand.

As Father Brendan Flynn in Doubt (2008), a man in a struggle with personalized forces of contempt (in the form of Meryl Steep!) that invades both his sense of responsibility and his pride.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, RIP.

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