Monday, February 03, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman RIP 1967-2014


Phillip Seymour Hoffman has passed away in what is suspected to be a drug overdose. He was only 46 years old.

I was actually working on a piece this weekend that included some of his upcoming projects. It is a huge shock and disappointment that I no longer will have a reason to post it. It doesn't have anything to do with the fact that the article won't be read by anyone, but that some of the projects that I was looking forward to won't be the same without Hoffman's contribution.

Hoffman was an incredibly talented actor. He has an Academy Award to prove that. He has several nominations to add to that prestige. He owned the type of brilliance that elevates almost any work. One of the things that really made him stand out was not just his usual great choice in roles, but the fact he often was atypical to what people associate with the Hollywood superstar. He was beefy and rugged but not in the chiseled firefighter way, but more the lumberjack living out in the woods type. It was more than the look that made him unique, but rather how he mumbled his lines and conveyed an uncomfortableness or awkwardness. This isn't to say he was any of those things, but rather a talent that made us believe his characters were this way.

One of his roles I'll remember most was in 25th Hour where he played Edward Norton's socially awkward and unsure friend who was battling with his crush over a student. It is such a believable performance that at the time I believed this was who Hoffman was. His body shook and his voice stammered, and it was a man who couldn't handle being in the presence of a woman many decades younger than him. He was larger than anyone around him, yet he seemed easily pushed around. A great actor connects with you and makes you forget you're watching a performance. It feels real, and this is what Hoffman did in 25th Hour.

There were other movies where he played a similar character to this, but he wasn't typecast. The real proof of his talent is the pictures where he conveyed characters with great strength, leadership and presence, because they were so far from some of his star-making roles. He played a believable leader of a cult in The Master, the new confident games-master in Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and a master-criminal in Mission Impossible III. All these roles showed complicated and guarded figures, but each had their different layers. It most importantly showed he was more than the socially awkward and weird guy who hid in the corner that he perfected in so many films. He had force and power when it was demanded of him.

There are several great actors I failed to write quick tributes to last year. James Gandolfini and Peter O'Toole are the biggest exemptions. Phillips Seymour Hoffman will stick with me for much longer and hits a bit harder. He was one of the actors that started introducing me to the diversity of cinema. He was front and centre when I started to sample Paul Thomas Anderson pictures with stuff like Magnolia or Boogie Nights. For a while if I discovered a less than mainstream film that I hadn't heard about, it just took Hoffman's names to assure me it must be pretty good. It was what convinced me to watch pictures like Owning Mahowney or Jack Goes Boating.

Jack Goes Boating is especially interesting to note, because that was his directorial debut. It showed that his constant acting for other great directors had rubbed off on him. It wasn't a perfect film, but a patient director with a key eye for performances was revealed. It made me excited to see the next project he was supposed to direct in Ezekiel Moss. The casting of Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams had just been announced, and it was becoming one of my most anticipated upcoming pictures. Now it may not happen, and if it does, it won't ever be what was originally conceived.

I'm going to miss Philip Seymour Hoffman. I always knew I'd like his performances. I was always excited to see him cast in a movie. He has a special talent who always brought something fresh and different to his roles.  It is sad to realize nothing new will be coming from him ever again.  I also know his family and friends will miss him more. I send my condolences to them. As for me, I may have to pay tribute in my own way and watch some his greatest works.

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