Film and drama

Screen Themes: Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman

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Entertainment editor John Turnbull reviews the glittering career of a vastly talented actor whose time with us was tragically cut short by a very human frailty.

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN was one of the finest actors of our generation.

He had the ability to take a thinly written supporting character and steal the show — from feel-good drivel like Patch Adams to intellectual wankery like Synecdoche, New York. When handed a strong script by a director who trusted him, Hoffman was never less than spectacular.

While PSH wasn’t exactly discovered by Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson (he got his start in NYPD Blue), Hoffman did star in five of his films, culminating in his blistering performance opposite Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. Hoffman is magnetic playing the charismatic but intellectually bankrupt Lancaster Dodds, a thinly veiled portrait of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

Prior to The Master, Philip Seymour Hoffman played supporting yet pivotal roles in over sixty films. Here are six of his best…

Boogie Nights (1997): Scotty J.

Shuffling, mumbling and uncomfortable in his own skin, Scotty the soundman in Boogie Nights was the polar opposite of man-crush Dirk Diggler, played with prosthetic-induced confidence by Mark Wahlberg. Surrounded by talented character actors – including Luis Guzman, Julianne Moore and even Burt Reynolds – Hoffman more than held his own.

The Big Lebowski (1998): Brandt

Directed by the near-infallible Coen Brothers, The Big Lebowski is a tale of kidnapping, nihilism and bowling. Hoffman plays Brandt, manservant to the titular Jeffrey Lebowski, with a level of grovelling and subservience that makes Waylon Smithers look like a slacker. I want an assistant like Brandt.

Happiness (1998): Allen

Directed by the always depressing Todd Solondz, Happiness was never going to be a laugh riot. Recurring themes include masturbation, obscene phone calls, loneliness and rape. To his enourmous credit, Hoffman manages to evoke feelings of sympathy for his broken, disturbed character. Not recommended for anyone with a sensitive disposition.

Mission Impossible III (2006): Owen Davian

I’m going to put it out there: the Mission Impossible series of films is kind of crap. The first one is awful, killing off the MI team in the first ten minutes and then getting increasingly confusing for the next ninety. The second one is stylish but stupid, directed with dove-flinging flair by John Woo. The third film is bigger, louder and makes slightly more sense, due in part to director-on-the-rise JJ Abrams. Hoffman plays villain Owen Davian with quiet malice, his chilling threats made even more believable by the ice cold tone in which they’re delivered…

Ides of March (2011): Paul Zara

Starring alongside Hollywood pretty-men Ryan Gosling and George Clooney, PSH assays a bravura performance in Ides of March as a jaded political campaign manager working on a Democratic primary. A little like a movie-length episode of The West Wing, the film charts the growing disenchantment of an unrealistically naïve political advisor (acting plank Gosling) who is far less interesting than the people around him — most of all campaign manager and vindictive bastard Paul Zara.

Almost Famous (2000): Lester Bangs

Five years before Hoffman won an Oscar for his portrayal of Truman Capote, he played another character based on a real person — legendary rock critic Lester Bangs. Hoffman provides a world weary, cynical counterpart to eager budding rock writer William Miller (Patrick Fugit), and in a single speech manages to define the heart of writing about music, or indeed anything you love…

Philip Seymour Hoffman died at age 46 of a suspected heroin overdose.

He leaves behind three young children.

You will be missed, brother.


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