Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman Has Left The Stage

"Think of how many Hoffman performances are memorable because you don't want to think about them for long because they make you uncomfortable, not in that phony undergraduate drama student sense, but because they tease out some buried truth about humanity, maybe about you in particular, often within the context of a character you never expected to connect with, much less identify with." Matt Zoller Seitz


A towering figure in life and acting Philip Seymour Hoffman died 9 days ago, and yet many already feel his loss permeating through the past, present and potential of film making. Hoffman had a omnipresent career for the past 15 years, I never got tired of seeing him.

During the last week of 2013 I saw Hoffman in two of his more recent films: A Late Quartet and The Master. Two more different films you could not find. In the former he plays a violin player who is repressed in every sense of the word, emotionally, professionally and sexually. Watching that performance is an exercise in restraint, as Hoffman's character Robert Gelbert slowly combusts from the inside. In The Master, Hoffman plays Lancaster Dodd in which he essentially channels Jim Jones, both in charismatic and maniacal ways. Hoffman oozes arrogance onscreen in a way he never did before. Though I have seen almost all of Hoffman's films, it is in The Master that he gives my favourite performance.

Almost all the obituaries have highlighted Hoffman's tendency to play outsiders. Whilst this is true in some cases (most notably in his other collaborations with Paul Thomas Anderson) I think this characterisation does him a disservice. In The Ides of March Hoffman plays the ultimate insider, as the campaign manager for the slick politician Mike Morris, played by George Clooney. Hoffman's performance is centred around the Machiavellian cynicism that I have confronted in all of my political life. The difference in Paul Zara, (Hoffman's character) is that you get the sense that while he enjoys the thrills of political oneupmanship, he has no idea what he believes in anymore. His final scene with Stephen Myers (Ryan Gosling) in particular, unpacks everything you thought you knew about the character and reveals true despair and emptiness. Paul laments a wasted life.

Hoffman was certainly the greatest actor of Generation X. His ability to inhabit complex characters remains unmatched. Even when he appeared in material that was beneath his vast talents, you always had to look twice. He was not a villian for the sake of it, there was always a deep emotional resonance that contributed to the character's dastardly behaviour.

The tragedy of Phillip Seymour Hoffman is not that he has left us, but that he do so far too soon. I think he would have made a great Teddy Roosevelt in my imagined biopic. And he would have grown old gracefully while rewarding us artistically, like another recently departed thespian, Peter O'Toole. His Oscar winning turn as Truman Capote may be Hoffman's most obvious legacy, but to me his ability to play every kind of emotion will always stand the test of time.

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