By Cal Meacham
A lot will be said of the sad death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, dead of a drug overdoes at a the young age of 46. But instead of talking about the cause of death or the nature of his passing we would like to reflect on the impact and lasting legacy that he had on cinema.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman was one of the best modern day actors, delivering great rolls that varied in style and tone. His command of a roll and comedic tone (when call upon) was what showed us his depth but it was his ability to wrap himself into roll after roll of sardonic, verbally dramatic and often narcissistic characters that made him so gripping. He will be greatly missed by the movie going community and I feel saddened that we have been deprived of the rest of his career.
The Big Lebowski
Magnolia, Boogie Nights and Happiness were all released in the late 90’s but it was The Big Lebowski that I most remember him for. Maybe it was my endless quoting of his character Brandt, Mr. Lebowski’s butler, with his naivete interactions with “The Dude” that really embedded itself in my mind. That is not to take away from the great job (in a much larger roll as well) that he did in the aforementioned movies, it is more about my first real appreciation of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a multi-ranged actor.
Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead
Hoffman starred in two of ten films listed by AFI as the “Most Influential Motion Pictures” of 2007: Savages and Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead. His role as Andy Hanson, a real estate investor who embezzles money from his company to pay for his expensive lifestyle and drug addiction, proved to be a great swan song for legendary director Sidney Lumet. We watch him stumble through panic and excess as he and brother (played by Ethan Hawke) plan a robbery to get themselves out of financial troubles. The film has all the great moments of a Lumet suspense piece but it is Hoffman’s performance that elevates the movie to influential.
Synecdoche, New York
Charlie Kaufman’s mise en abyme Synecdoche, New York is Hoffman’s greatest performance (as well as one of the greatest films of the last 20 years). Eschewing traditional narratives and plot threads, Hoffman managed to keep us grounded as his character travels deeper down the rabbit hole. You lament over his relationship with his wife and watch as life unfolds so beautifully in front of you. As a stage director of an ever expanding theatrical experience we see him suddenly switch roles mid stream from director to actor in his own play. He switches gears from obsession about the ballooning play to living out his life within it. This is a lifetime achievement performance and just as much as it is remembered for its ability to confuse and inspire it is remembered for Philip Seymour Hoffman’s great acting.
I have gushed over this film and have understood with repeat viewings, that what makes me love it so much is the amazing acting throughout. I could talk at length about Amy Adams or Joaquin Phoenix and how the ensemble cast was hand picked to perfection but it is within Hoffman’s portrayal of Lancaster Dodd that I spend the most time analyzing. With each speach/sermon that he gives you are transfixed in his gaze, he is pulling you into the movie. You may not understand all of his motives but you find yourself believing because of his delivery. This is a great among many for a great actor. Rest In Peace Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Be warned that a certain “F” word is dropped at the end of this clip, but it is an amazing display