Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014) A Tribute


Dear Philip, a beautiful beautiful soul. For the most sensitive among us the noise can be too much. Bless your heart.” — Jim Carrey on Twitter.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the greatest and most ambitious actors of his generation. Hoffman died at 46 due to a drug-overdose. He leaves behind three fatherless children. The potential for his career cannot be underestimated. Winning the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal in ‘Capote’ (2005) and scoring 3 other Academy Award nominations; made him one of the most successful working actors to be awarded at the Oscars. Although we have a host of immortal performances, we must lament the unborn performances that are now lost forever. The circumstances of his death and the legendary career he had made for a tragedy in the truest sense of the word.

When I think of Philip Seymour Hoffman I think of an actor who was clever, ambitious, fearless and emotionally raw. Watching him on-screen, it usually felt as if he were channeling something bubbling under the surface, something not pleasant. He came across as an intelligent, thoughtful man, who seemed to know something you didn’t, who had visited the darker reaches of human nature. How I wished to go to a dinner party with him and ask him probing questions about his characters. To journey with Hoffman is go deep into the dark.

I remember first seeing Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the cowardly rich kid in ‘Scent of A Woman’ (1992). He was again cast as a rich menacing insufferable snob in the beautiful ‘Talented Mr. Ripley’ (1998). Many of his roles were as villains or especially unsavoury characters particularly as the sexual repressed pervert in the most disturbing movie I’ve seen ‘Happiness’ (1998), or as the charismatic paedophile priest in ‘Doubt’ (2008), the odious and manipulative journalists in ‘Almost Famous’ (2000) and ‘Red Dragon (2002), self-destructive Truman Capote in ‘Capote’ (2005), or the egomaniacal cult leader in ‘The Master’ (2012).

Here are my top Philip Seymour Hoffman performances:

FILM_TORONTO_OSCARS_3661141‘Capote’ (2005)

The role that won him his Best Actor Oscar. The performance that beat Heath Ledgers phenomenal turn in ‘Brokeback Mountain’ (2005). The larger than life character of Truman Capote has been captured in films countless times since his death. His distinctive voice, mannerisms and flamboyant personality, a beacon for Hollywood which all too often ended in a grotesque caricature. Not with Hoffman. He became not just the character of Capote but his inner psychology. He explored the love, lost and self-destruction of an artist consumed by his art and desire for glory. The scene in which Truman final breaks Perry, the murderer of the Clutter family is savage as it is beautiful. Hoffman’s performance sees through the facade that was Capote and discovers as tortured soul on a path of self-destruction in pursuit of artistic fame.


‘The Master’ (2012)

To create the character of a cult leader that at once must be both seductive and unsettling is one thing. But to create a character that is perversely drawn in a subtlety sexual and psychological complex way to a man who is his opposite, a slow, violent drifter, is nothing short of awe-inspiring. In the draw dropping ‘processing’ scene where the cult leader Lancaster Dodd, played by Hoffman, psychologically dismantles Freddie (Joaquin Pheonix) the chemistry between the two subverts what appears as a frightening interrogation into a twisted sexual dance and power play. The rage that erupts from Hoffman when a man confronts the hypocrisy of the ‘cause’ is palpable and deeply unnerving. Hoffman again turns what could have been a clichéd story of a cult leader and his converted follower into a psychological complex romance of monumentally twisted proportions.

 magnolia-1999-08-g‘Magnolia’ (1999)

Phil Parma is a softly spoken sensitive nurse looking after a dying man in a larger family drama and meditation on chance in life. An overlooked and underrated performance I consider one of Hoffman’s best is because it displays his versatility outside of his usual darker roles. His supporting role in a larger drama becomes a small island of humanity is an ocean of uncaring disconnected individuals. His kindness, caring for an old man no one else seems to love and his deep internal conflict over difficult moral decisions portray a rare Hoffman character a sensitive soul trying to navigate a dark world. Hoffman displays an emotional sensitivity and depth that was a glaring departure from his usual roles.

 philip_seymour_hoffman_as_father_flynn_in_doubt_‘Doubt’ (2008)

The epic showdown scene between Meryl Streep’s hardnose sister Aloysius  and the suspected peadophile priest Father Flynn ranks as one of the most taught dramatic scenes I have ever seen. Perhaps more than any other role Father Flynn is a character of a seemingly good man trying to do the best for his parish yet holding a dark secret that is destroying him and others. To create sympathy for a priest most likely guilty of the sexual abuse of a young boy is no easy feat. Once again Hoffman works his magic taking what could be a very black and white case of evil and adding grey. A role that is both fearless and disturbing, making the audience ask themselves some very hard questions about guilt and peadophilia.

Honourable Mentions:

Scent of A Woman (1992)

Boogie Nights (1997)

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Happiness (1998)

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

Almost Famous (2000)

Red Dragon (2002)

Punch Drunk Love (2002)

Owning Mahowny (2003)

Before The Devil Knows Your Dead (2007)

Synecdoche New York (2008)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

See my tribute at The Feed Magazine as well:

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