By Jack Rico
If you’ve never seen a movie with Philip Seymour Hoffman in it, then you’ve missed out on quite a lot. An actor of enormous depth of nuance and subtlety, which he was known to bring to his roles, has been darkened. Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his Manhattan apartment at age 46 this past weekend. The news has shocked the entertainment industry as well as fans who have seen his work. Recognized as being one of the best actors of his generation, Hoffman felt comfortable being the star of a film as much as the character actor in it. He gave us some of the more memorable performances you’ll see in the past 25 years in cinema.
His best work came in the period of 3 years where he could do no wrong. Here’s a look back at 5 of his finest performances, not necessarily movies, to give you a sense of why his transfixing acting made us laugh, cry, become uncomfortable and even severely despise him.
5. Synecdoche, NY (R, 124M, Dir. Charlie Kaufman, 2008)
Plot: A theatre director struggles with his work, and the women in his life, as he creates a life-size replica of New York City inside a warehouse as part of his new play.
Why he was so great: This film has the capacity to intrigue and vex in perhaps equal measure, which is why Hoffman’s performance is so valued here. He plays it superbly and with great sincerity. Hoffman submerges in the role of Caden Cotard, a local theatre director who sets out to create a gigantic play as an analogue of his own life. Hoffman takes on the daunting role, where he transforms himself from a young man to an elder all while delivering his lines with much devastation and heartbreak. After you finish watching him, he’ll leave an imprint of his performance deep in the grooves of your memory.
4. Charlie Wilson’s War (R, 102M, Dir. Mike Nichols, 2008)
Plot: A drama based on a Texas congressman Charlie Wilson’s covert dealings in Afghanistan, where his efforts to assist rebels in their war with the Soviets have some unforeseen and long-reaching effects.
Why he was so great: Hoffman plays a CIA loose cannon named Gust Avrakotos and owned every minute of film he was in. As the comic relief, the best lines delivered in the movie were his. He had no equal. All Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts could do was just watch and enjoy. As a result, the Academy nominated him with a Best Supporting Actor nod, his second at the time. The clip above says it all.
3. Mission Impossible 3 (PG-13, 126M, Dir. J.J. Abrams, 2006)
Plot: Ethan Hunt comes face to face with a dangerous and sadistic arms dealer while trying to keep his identity secret in order to protect his girlfriend.
Why he was so great: After laughing with Hoffman for the better part of his early film career in some truly charismatic performances, Hoffman revealed a versatility few thought he possessed. He decided to explore other shades of his acting, and what surfaced, was his disturbing and frightening performance of icy sadist weapons dealer Owen Davian in Mission Impossible 3. He was as menacing a villain you’ll see in movies. Played with a snake bite confidence, steadfast malevolence and a profound lack of remorse, Hoffman became someone you’d have nightmares about. He never surrendered to overacting, but maintained a petrifying tranquility that actually amped up the fear factor. Watch this and you’d think Hoffman was destined to play villains all his life.
2. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (R, 117M, Dir. Sidney Lumet, 2007)
Plot: When two brothers organize the robbery of their parents’ jewelry store the job goes horribly wrong, triggering a series of events that sends them, their father and one brother’s wife hurtling towards a shattering climax.
Why he was so great: In what is arguably his greatest performance, Hoffman plays Andy, a real estate executive who is hooked on drugs, and lives beyond his means. Not only is the movie riveting, suspenseful and twisted, but so is Hoffman. As always, he begins with a charming understated demeanor that progressively builds towards an explosive crescendo of survival, guilt and chaos. By the end, you’d never think that rooting for such a deprave individual would be such a guilty pleasure. Shocking that he was not nominated at least as a Best Supporting Actor.
1. Capote (R, 114M, Dir. Bennett Miller, 2005)
Plot: Truman Capote, during his research for his book In Cold Blood, an account of the murder of a Kansas family, the writer develops a close relationship with Perry Smith, one of the killers.
Why he was so great: The film that granted him the Oscar for Best Actor and revealed him as one of the great actors of our time. Hoffman’s performance isn’t merely an imitation of Capote, he becomes him with a spirit few can exude. This is Hoffman’s movie from start to finish and lives up to all and every expectation. With precise technique and pure narcissism, Hoffman delivers a devastating portrait of a man caught in an internal war between his professional ambitions and guilt. Detailing his acting, Hoffman could have easily played Capote as a caricature, but instead, he gives Capote a multi layered performance that was special from the very first frame. You may not like Capote at the end of the film, but you will certainly be mesmerized by Hoffman’s indelible performance.