It is always in tragic circumstances in which anybody writes an obituary. However, when the person in question dies so suddenly and at no fit age to leave us, it leaves us even more stunned. At 47 years old, one of the actors of his generation, Philip Seymour Hoffman, was found dead in his apartment on the morning of 2nd February 2014. At that age and with no underlying health issues we can only speculate about the cloudy implications regarding his death. However, instead of exploring those upsetting details and the possibilities of a drugs overdose it would do the Oscar winning actor more of a service to celebrate his life and work. There have already been millions of tributes on social networking sites from film fans and the industry alike and they have all been quick to praise his unique acting abilities and to wish condolences to his family. Looking back at his performances you see how he established himself as one of the best in his field and why people will remember him for his acting for decades.
Philip was born in Rochester, New York in 1967, he grew up to study drama, graduating in 1989 before jumping into the acting game with a few performances in films that helped him to learn his craft. After supporting roles in movies such as Triple Bogey on a Par Five Hole, The Getaway and Nobody’s Fool he was cast by future long term collaborator Paul Thomas Anderson as a craps player in the auteur’s directorial debut Hard Eight in 1996. After getting a taste of the Blockbuster with Twister in 1996, Hoffman returned in Anderson’s second feature, about the 1980s porn industry, Boogie Nights in which he played Scotty, a gay crew member who repressed his love for Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler. A character that really began to show the talent of Hoffman and the vulnerability he can potray.
Hoffman continued to work with the top directors in Hollywood throughout the nineties, preferring the comfort of a reputable, independent movie instead of the Blockbuster. Working with the Coen Brothers on the masterpiece The Big Lebowski, Joel Schumacher on Flawless and with a fantastic performance in Todd Solondz’s Happiness, Hoffman was ticking off the names of some of the biggest names in the independent industry at the time.
One of his finest, earlier performances was after being yet again reunited with PTA, playing nurse Phil Parma in the ensemble Magnolia. Helping the dying Jason Robards to track down his son played by Tom Cruise, Hoffman has a wonderful calming influence and a likability in the film which for a moment seems to halt the chaos of the rest of the remaining characters. Although Magnolia is a film of acting juggernauts and people often site it as the best performance of Tom Cruise, Hoffman stood his ground and he would soon see this catapult him into starring roles. Before working his way onto the A-List, Hoffman gave us wonderful and memorable performances in supporting roles such in Almost Famous, Punch Drunk Love, Red Dragon, Cold Mountain and 25th Hour. It seemed like every director in Hollywood wanted his talents attached to their film.
However, out of these directors it was the inexperienced Bennett Miller, who in his first feature film Capote, cast childhood friend Hoffman in the eponymous role. The subtleties and emotion within the performance, as well as his accurate depiction of Truman Capote earned Hoffman a whole host of awards including the Best Actor Academy Award. An award that no other actor would come close to that year. Despite his success, the actor remained humble, likable and continued to do what he did best, act.
Joining up again with Magnolia co-star Tom Cruise, he went on to be, hands down, the greatest Mission Impossible villain of the franchise in J.J Abrams Mission Impossible III. Hoffman moved with an unrivaled versatility from genre to genre claiming critical adulation in his path. From The Savages to Charlie Wilson’s War before appearing as the lead in Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, a performance and a film that is often underrated but is a favourite among many.
Doubt earned Hoffman another set of awards nominations for his performance as Father Brendan Flynn, a preacher who is thought to be abusing the young boys at his church. However, the audience is left unaware and it is through Hoffman’s body language and facial movements in which the eponymous doubt lies and is what gives the film its strength. After the heavy subject matter he moved into comedy, having a cameo in the underwhelming Ricky Gervais vehicle The Invention of Lying and being the best thing in The Boat That Rocked (or Pirate Radio if you live in the States).
2011 saw two terrific, supporting performances in the hard hitting The Ides of March before joining up again with Bennett Miller for Moneyball. Although he only has a small portion of screen time in each, you recall his presence. The following year saw one of his finest performances as Lancaster Dodd in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Based loosely on the founder of Scientology L.Ron Hubbard this is as complex a character as would be acceptable in mainstream Hollywood, however Hoffman made him accessible and sympathetic, even when he is brainwashing subjects and dealing with those that oppose it. The role cemented Hoffman as one of the most unique actors of his generation and if this tragedy did not occur he would undoubtedly continue to be at the top of director’s wishlists.
The twilight of Hoffman’s career has been taken up mostly by The Hunger Games phenomenon in which he plays Plutarch Heavensbee, these are the roles in which the younger generation will most likely know and remember him and which will hopefully inspire them to watch more of his work as they get older. He mostly finished the filming of the first and second part of Hunger Games: Mockingjay before his tragic death and will continue to get people talking about his wonderful acting performances.
We have lost one of the greatest actors of our generation, the kind of actor that gets us all talking and writing about movies and I implore you, instead of debating the circumstances regarding his death to discuss his movies instead and watch as much of his back catalogue as you can in service to the great man.
R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman