Sad To See You Leaving 2014: Philip Seymour Hoffman

by George_East on December 27, 2014

Philip_Seymour_Hoffman_2011On one view it is hard to believe that Philip Seymour Hoffman is no longer with us.  Film releases, trailing as they do film production often by some considerable time, have made him feel a very real presence this year.  Not only in the latest Hunger Games  film but also in God’s Pocket and Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man. 

His part as disheveled German Secret Service agent, Gunter Bachmann, in the last of those films, felt like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.  A man incapable of escaping his inner demons or ultimately affecting the very real demons in the world in which he inhabits.  It was a classic Hoffman role.  One that underlined the reasons for him being considered the finest screen actor of his generation.

I first remember seeing him in 1970s porn nostalgia-fest, Boogie Nights amongst a whole bunch of other actors who seemed to be tailor made for quality character parts that had made many of the  Hollywood films of the 1940s-1970s so great.  As well as Hoffman that film had William H Macy and John C Reilly.  Hoffman was excellent but did not particularly stand out from the very impressive cast.   It took his supporting role as snob Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr Ripley to do that – he only has five scenes, but he steals the film.  It was why it was that film rather than some of his later bigger roles that was chosen as his tribute film by the Cine-East Film Club earlier in the year.

His early character roles would evolve through sheer talent into leading parts.  Hoffman did not have the obvious looks or easy presence for a studio Hollywood leading man, so those parts primarily came through independent films.  He was superb as sympathetic paedophile Allen in Todd Solonz’s typically dark comedy, Happiness.

Hoffman’s portrayal of Truman Capote in Capote won him an Oscar and far wider recognition.   He would receive three further Oscar nominations for Charlie Wilson’s War , Doubt and The Master.    He continued to impress in smaller independent films – for me one of his finest performances came in Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages as an emotionally dysfunctional professor of English having to deal with his equally dysfunctional sister and their estranged father.

His performance as an L Ron Hubbard like religious leader in The Master had many critics open mouthed (though if truth be told I thought it, like the film itself, was overrated).  Yet it represented (as it turned out) the culmination of a long term relationship with director Paul Thomas Anderson spanning five films.  Many would view that partnership as the best American actor of his generation working with the best American director of his generation.  You could hardly ask for more as a film fan.

Hoffman’s death in February from an overdose of heroin, cocaine and prescription drugs saw him pass on at the age of 46.  He somehow always seemed older than that – even in those early performances.  Like so many talented artists he was clearly a deeply troubled man and who can say whether his art would have been as good as it was without that being the case.

Philip Seymour Hoffman: 1967-2014 RIP.

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