There are many entertainers in the world that claim to live up to their often exaggerated status. The core problem here is that few actually ever do, and the industry automatically blurs the lines between mediocre and sensational acting. Philip Seymour Hoffman was a sensational actor, an artist who lived up to every inch of his prestige and reputation as one of the best actors of the modern age.
Hoffman is probably best known for playing the role of Truman Capote in the 2005 biographical epic, Capote. Though films about the writer’s life had already been made, none quite match the vigour and emotional poignancy of the director Bennet Miller’s attempt. The film, which involves Capote subjecting himself to what seems like a lifetime documenting the murder of a family whilst simultaneously attaching himself to the likes of a known criminal, is rendered fascinating by Hoffman’s acting virtuosity. His depiction of the writer, which I confess had me doubtful at first, grew on me. It was uncanny.
After earning himself an Academy-Award for Best Actor, Hoffman sadly remained ‘that guy who’s good at acting’. Alas, if anything is to come from Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing, I do hope it brings new acknowledgement to his acting.
Although he has been in many films that are arguably better, among a huge ensemble cast that features the like of Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh and Rhys Ifans, Philip Seymour Hoffman certainly stands out among the rest as easily the most diverse actor in The Boat That Rocked. Created by Richard Curtis, this film about pirate radio in the 1960s is a great comedic film with the odd darker moment, something which Philip Seymour Hoffman portrays very well.
Playing the American DJ The Count he has a certain quality that is only challenged by Rhys Ifans who plays his arch enemy throughout. By the end of the film, we are warmed to the core by The Count and empathise as all he wants to do is play music to the fans. Seeing his enjoyment as he sings ‘All Day And All of the Night’ by The Kinks emphasises how music to him is a vice. As a character, he embodies the freedom of the swinging 60s and makes the audience want to join him on that boat.
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s only partnership with the Coen brothers saw him appear in a small role in The Big Lebowski. This film tells the story of mistaken identity which leads to a defaced rug and a missing toe. Although only appearing in a minor role, Hoffman does what he is best at and is utterly memorable even among the excellent ensemble cast of the film.
Despite being eccentric within a sea of eccentric characters, he manages to stand out. He is a stark contrast to Jeff Bridges character and the dialogue between the two is among the best in the film. In a film full of great scenes and great actors, it is a credit to the power of Hoffman’s presence that within it you do not forget him.
In a career as glowing as Hoffman’s, it’s nearly impossible to zero in on any one performance or film that shines above the rest. He excelled in both leading roles and as a supporting player, but perhaps his strongest work came in his multiple collaborations with director and friend Paul Thomas Anderson.
Although his barnstorming turn in The Master was deservedly acclaimed, it’s his earlier more low key supporting performances in the likes of Boogie Nights and Magnolia where he is was first noticed as a force to contend with. A freewheeling emotional epic about karma, forgiveness and guilt, Magnolia is my favourite and perhaps the strongest of his collaborations with Anderson.
In a film full of strong idiosyncratic characters where everyone, even Tom Cruise, gives a great performance; it’s Hoffman who quietly shines as a nurse trying to reconnect a dying man with his son, calmly delivering an astute emotional portrayal of a man stuck very much between a rock and a hard place. The film is literally stuffed to the brim with ideas and beautiful crazy moments: a storm of frogs; a wonderfully out-there musical interlude where all the cast sing for no apparent reason. It’s a devastating mosaic of beautiful character studies, plumbing the depths of human emotion, and it’s Hoffman who held it all together.
Truly, Hoffman was one of a handful actors working today where the title “genius” could legitimately be applied. It was always a privilege to watch him in any film, and he will be missed massively.
When asked to pick your favourite film by the great Philip Seymour Hoffman the choice is quite frankly overwhelming. When first asked my inclination off the cuff may have been towards The Master – many of Hoffman’s best films have been in collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson but on reflection I think my favourite has to be Synecdoche, New York. The film is largely about one’s own strugglewith their mortality, so with Hoffman’s sudden passing it seems a rather appropriate choice to pay tribute to him.
Hoffman had a remarkable ability to connect with people on an emotional level. The character he plays in the film, Caden Cotard, represents a side that we all possess – perhaps slightly narcissistic but deeply human, everyone knows what it is like to wish to be remembered and to fear death. And here, Hoffman captures that aspect of the human condition with heart wrenching accuracy. As Caden goes through a series of different relationships with women, Hoffman still manages to portray a character that we cannot help but feel for sorry for – despite all his flaws he created a character we all relate to – and I believe this feature of his acting is displayed best in this very odd, but brilliant film, perhaps better than any other.
Philip Seymour Hoffman could make us feel empathy for any character no matter how flawed; that makes him perhaps one of the greatest actors of his generation.