By Ross Miller
Last Sunday the film community was shaken to the core by the sad news that the brilliant actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died.
He was found dead at his New York apartment just after 11am on Sunday February 2nd as a result of a reported drug overdose. But regardless of how he died, it’s a tragic loss for both his family and the millions of fans he had around the world. He was a tremendous actor able to elevate whatever material he chose to star in, whether it be a serious true life drama like Capote or blockbusters like Mission: Impossible III and the recent Hunger Games instalment or even a fluffy rom-com like Along Came Polly. He was often the best thing about the movie, always bringing a certain kind of humanity and believability to the role even when the character may have been inherently unlikeable. Hoffman landed his first major role in 1992 with Scent of a Woman alongside Al Pacino and Chris O’Donnell before starring in a string of indie movies like Nobody’s Fool and Happiness. But it wasn’t until he started working with director Paul Thomas Anderson in films like Boogie Nights and Magnolia that he truly made his mark, becoming a recognisable face and a firm favourite among moviegoers. He was truly a masterful actor with too many great performances to name all of them but here’s a list of some of his most memorable ones:
Hoffman gave a scene-stealing performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s glitzy story centred on the porn industry. He plays a boom operator who falls for star Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) and in one scene makes an inappropriate pass at him. He’s at once hilarious and sad thanks to Hoffman’s performance that makes sure he’s a fully-rounded character as opposed to a comedic caricature.
The Big Lebowski
Proving he can do comedy just as well as drama, Hoffman is hilarious here in the Coen bros’ slacker comedy as Brandt, personal assistant to the titular millionaire. He doesn’t have the biggest role but he makes a strong impression in some of the film’s funniest scenes, not least of which is in the one where he’s showing Jeff Bridge’s Dude around his boss’ office. “This is the study…”
One of many famous faces that appear in Paul Thomas Anderson’s intricately plotted masterpiece including Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore and John C. Reilly, Hoffman plays a nurse looking after a dying man. He is, unsurprisingly, fantastic in the role of a man doing his best to comfort another in their remaining days. You have to look no further than the scene in which he tries to track down his patient’s estranged son to see why his performance has as much impact as it does.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
In this murder mystery Hoffman plays a supporting but vital role as Freddie Miles, a snobby yet charming figure whose presence is felt even when he’s not on-screen. A scene in which he not-so-subtly hints that he knows what’s going on with Matt Damon’s suspect Tom Ripley is chilling as it is tense.
Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical tale of a teenage boy on the road trip of a lifetime covering a band’s tour for Rolling Stone magazine is moving, uplifting and emotional. Hoffman stars in a small yet pivotal role as real life rock music journalist Lester Bangs, who gives welcome insights – about the industry and life in general – to the impressionable young William (Patrick Fugit).
Probably his most widely recognisable role, Hoffman gave a brilliant performance playing the legendary author Truman Capote in this bleak and haunting film directed by Bennett Miller (whom he would later re-team with for Moneyball) based on the author’s non-fiction book In Cold Blood. He starred in the film alongside Chris Cooper, Clifton Collins Jr. and Catherine Keener, an actress he would go on to work with again in the likes of Synecdoche, New York and last year’s A Late Quartet. Hoffman’s distinctive portrayal got the author down to a tee – including his demeanour and unusual way of speaking – and won him numerous plaudits including the Oscar for Best Actor.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Hoffman stars alongside Ethan Hawke in this family crime drama directed by the late-great Sidney Lumet. He plays the older brother of the two who convinces his younger sibling to rob their parent’s jewellery store. Things don’t go according to plan when someone is killed during the robbery and the two brothers are left to deal with the mess. The film explores themes of guilt and loyalty and Hoffman brings a lot to the role to make the character feel real and relatable despite his horrid actions.
Synecdoche, New York
Charlie Kaufman (writer of such unique films as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) directed this detailed, intricate and emotional film that sees Hoffman give what is, in my eyes, his finest ever performance. As frustrated theatre director Caden Cotard, Hoffman delivers a multi-layered performance, echoing the nature of the film itself. It’s a prime example of the type of emotionally complex performances that few other actors could have pulled off.
Mary and Max
The actor lent his voice-acting talent to this delightful and heartbreaking black-and-white animation (or “claymation” to be more specific). He voices the titular Max (with a heavy Yiddish accent), a lonely man with Asperger’s living in New York who sparks a pen pal friendship with a girl who lives in Australia. I encourage you to seek out this gem of a film as, thanks largely to Hoffman, the character of Max is wonderful to spend time with as he lets you in on his strange little ways of looking at the world, including making up names for everyday things like “shmushables” AKA the squashed groceries at the bottom of the bag and “confuzzled,” which is being confused and puzzled at the same time.
Reuniting once again with writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, Hoffman is spellbinding in the role of Lancaster Dodd, an L. Ron. Hubbard-esque leader of a cult not unlike the religion of Scientology which lures in war veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). Hoffman is absolutely electrifying when he’s on-screen here, saying as much with a look as much as his charming, powerful words, however crazy they may be in logical terms. He makes you hang on every one of those words, personified in this scene in which a sceptic questions his teachings.
Other great performances not explored above include in Punch-Drunk Love, as the short-tempered phone line supervisor alongside Adam Sandler; in Doubt as Father Brendan Flynn, a priest accused of child abuse; and the criminally under-seen The Savages, in which he co-starred with Laura Linney as a brother and sister trying to take care of their infirm father.
What are some of your favourite performances by him? Tweet us @scotcampus.