Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014)

I was shocked and saddened yesterday to read of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Like a lot of people, I first remember seeing him on screen in Scent of a Woman as the disheveled George Willis, Jr. It was a small part, but memorable, and yet it seemed to me like a long time before he reappeared again in another film. I’m pretty sure he only re-entered my consciousness in Capote, his Academy Award winning portrayal of the famous author. It wasn’t long after that, however, that I ran into his work on a much more frequent basis when checking out older films, Red Dragon, Cold Mountain, The Big Lebowski, The Talented Mr. Ripley and, especially intriguing, his brief appearances in the PBS documentary Liberty! The American Revolution where he played the young revolutionary soldier Joseph Plumb Martin.

After that he was not someone I that occasionally saw in supporting roles but someone whose films I actively sought out. The first of those was Charlie Wilson’s War in 2007. Sure, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts are great, but Hoffman’s appearance clinched it for me. His cantankerous Gust Avrakotos was a perfect part for him. The following year he went on to star in one of my favorite films of his, Doubt. It’s a testament to his acting skills that, despite the overwhelming evidence in the script, many viewers were still unsure at the end if he did it. From there it was two tour-de-force performances in 2011, the first as the obstinate baseball manager in Moneyball, and then as George Clooney’s ultra realist campaign manager in The Ides of March.

In addition to his Oscar for Capote, Hoffman was also nominated for best supporting actor three more times. He was also nominated for four Golden Globes and also won for Capote. There was a supremely natural quality to Hoffman’s acting that made him a real force on the screen. And the parts were becoming better. It wasn’t very often that he was going to get a leading role, but there was a real feeling that more Oscars would have been in the works for him. It’s a shocking end to a brilliant career, and all the more tragic for what might have been. For me, at least, Philip Seymour Hoffman will forever be missed.

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