Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014)

Ali Gray

2nd February 2014

I'm at a loss tonight to describe the measure of Philip Seymour Hoffman's talents. At just 46 years old, you got the feeling he was barely even halfway done showing us what he could do. Just one glance at his CV shows you a range that's unparalleled in Hollywood: heroes, villains, love interests, sadsacks, wacky best friends, rock gods, slimy salesmen, butlers, writers and crooks. Regardless of the circumstances of his death, the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman is a true tragedy; that he died of something so common as a drug overdose doesn't feel fitting to the man, although it acts as a stark reminder that no one is above or beyond the clutches of addiction.

The last Philip Seymour Hoffman performance I saw was Lancaster Dodd in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. It's not a performance you're likely to forget in a hurry. With Hoffman, it wasn't what was on the surface that you noticed, but what seemed to be bubbling beneath. With Dodd, there were reservoirs of anger behind those eyes; a burnt soul trapped in the body of a liar and a charlatan. These are not qualities you can write, they are only qualities you can embody. Only men like Hoffman - and he was part of a select group - could summon such terrifying depth of character on celluloid.

It already pains me to write about Philip Seymour Hoffman in the past tense. It will take some adjustment. He was one of the most watchable, magnetic screen presences of our age; I'm struggling to think of a single movie in which he appeared, in which he wasn't the best thing by a country mile. Even in smaller roles, like Brandt the butler in The Big Lebowski, or Sandy in Along Came Polly, Hoffman held the attention. I'm sure you all know of my fondness for The Mattress Man. It's hard to think that's that.

There are so few people in the industry who had range like Hoffman's. He excelled at playing powerful men (The Master, Mission: Impossible villain Owen Davian, powderkeg Gust Avrakotos in Charlie Wilson's War) but also made for a brilliant heel (Brandt, Scotty J in Boogie Nights, the weeping masturbator in Todd Solondz' Happiness). He played men of wit and wisdom (Capote, Almost Famous) and characters of quiet experience (The Ides Of March, Moneyball). I hope I'm not alone in thinking there was nothing Philip Seymour Hoffman couldn't do on screen. He earned that trust.

His face was phenomenal. Hoffman was able to look either fearsome or cuddly depending on what light he was in. It's not easy to play history's most effete playwright one year then a villain opposite Tom Cruise the next. Hoffman took characters that were complex on paper and made them impossibly real on screen. I don't know anyone else who could play Caden Cotard in Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York. It was a role so knotted and twisted and jagged that to take it on would be to instantly do it a disservice. Hoffman nailed it. He always nailed it. He was never, ever ordinary. He was incapable of being average.

You were never more than a year or so away from the next great Philip Seymour Hoffman performance. It saddens me greatly to know there will never be another.

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