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Pop Off: In memory of Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Staff Writer

Published: Monday, February 3, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 3, 2014 21:02

Phillip Seymour Hoffman, an infallible talent whose presence made any film that featured him instantly compelling, is dead at 46. Hoffman’s abilities on the screen made him an icon of contemporary cinema and a movie star.

His figure wasn’t muscle toned, his face wasn’t carved from granite, he could never be called a heartthrob, but that did not prevent any film bill with his name on it, starring or supporting, from instantly being worth attention. He appeared in few blockbusters, and those he did are the least notable of his esteemed filmography. But at the end of almost every year for two decades, at least one of his films would be on the retrospective radar, and his name was seldom absent from any awards discussion. He worked with a multitude of respected, high-caliber directors including Spike Lee, the Coen brothers and Sidney Lumet. Phillip Seymour Hoffman became a name as household as Tom Cruise or Robert Downey Jr. He earned every scrap of his fame with his talent.

What made Hoffman brilliant was his ability to be ambiguous. He could completely alter our impression of him simply by manipulating the corner of his mouth. His smile was versatile and dangerous. He could appear vulnerable and tender-hearted, then duplicitous and sleazy; his best performances (“Doubt” and “Happiness”) were when he mixed so many elements of character, one could never assume where his performance was headed. You knew at once whether you wanted to trust or distrust him, but became conflicted as to which is the proper option. He way of speaking was collected and deliberate, and whomever he conversed with, his character was either the smarter man, or certainly thought as such. His characters were unpredictable and not to be taken lightly; he would never shed the shrouds that surrounded them. There wasn’t ever a casting decision for him that could be called a surprise because he could fit on every space of the hero-villain spectrum. His mantra was humble. Almost no film was advertised as a “Phillip Seymour Hoffman Movie,” and he never used a grand entrance preferring to stroll casually into view and become the most interesting person on screen.

Hoffman achieved his breakthrough in 1992 with “Scent of a Woman.” He worked with acclaimed director Paul Thomas Anderson thrice in the decade, first in “Hard Eight” and then in “Boogie Nights” and “Magnolia.” They collaborated again for “The Master” in 2012, which earned Hoffman his fourth and likely final Academy Award nomination. His only Oscar win came in 2006 for his portrayal of writer Truman Capote in “Capote.” He also earned nominations for “Doubt,” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.” Other highlights include “Cold Mountain,” “25th Hour,” “Owning Mahony” and “Almost Famous.” Hoffman also acted on the stage, his most recent role being Willy Lorman in the Broadway production of “Death of a Salesman,” for which he received a Tony nomination. Posthumous releases will be “A Most Wanted Man,” “God’s Pockeet” and the two remaining films in “The Hunger Games” series.


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