02 February 2014

Many Faces: Philip Seymour Hoffman - In Memoriam

by Kevin Powers

At about 1:20 P.M. today, I was browsing my Twitter feed when I saw a re-tweet from Paul Pabst citing a breaking news article from The Wall Street Journal. Headline: "Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman found dead in Manhattan apartment". My heart sank.

Like any other iPhone user, I instantly googled for confirmation. It was early in the development. Only the one source reporting. I kept checking until finally it was confirmed. Devastation.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of the greatest actors of the last twenty years. He seemed to still be going strong. In the past year, it had been reported that he had begun using drugs again after 23 years clean and sober. It is becoming apparent that his untimely death came as a result of a drug overdose. I am just totally saddened by this news.

Here is a retrospective of some of my favorite pieces of work from an astoundingly talented man:

 Twister (1996) - Dir. Jan de Bont

as Dustin Davis in Twister

In which he played the goofy one in a crew of Midwestern storm chasers. Any kid of my generation knows this one well. I remember seeing this movie at Downtown West with Jessica Valentine in the 6th grade. It was my first introduction to Philip Seymour Hoffman. And it's a good, entertaining movie. I might have to watch it again soon.

The Films of Paul Thomas Anderson
Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), Punch-Drunk Love (2002), The Master (2012)

as Dean Trumbell in Punch-Drunk Love
Philip Seymour Hoffman became well-known as a character actor with the help of auteur Paul Thomas Anderson. Through these films, Hoffman put himself on the map, especially in Boogie Nights as the odd, sort-of gay porn film boom operator, Scotty J. He went on to strong supporting work once again in Anderson's mosaic L.A. masterpiece Magnolia. His turn as a dirtbag mattress salesman in Punch-Drunk Love showed an angry side we hadn't seen before. And, finally, a starring role in 2012's The Master showcased Hoffman's ability to outright own the screen.

Almost Famous (1999) - Dir. Cameron Crowe

as Lester Bangs in Almost Famous
Hoffman offered some show-stealing moments early in Cameron Crowe's beautiful Almost Famous. He plays real-life Creem magazine rock critic Lester Bangs. He delivers some of the most memorable lines of my movie-watching life in this one, including "You'll meet them all again on their long journey to the middle," which passed through my brain just yesterday.

The Big Lebowski (1998) - Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen

as Brandt in The Big Lebowski

A very small but surprisingly effective role as Brandt, The Big Lebowski's gopher, will always be in the hearts of both Hoffman and Coen fans. He is incredibly proper and uptight and incredibly satisfying in such a small role. "This is our concern, dude."

Happiness (1998) - Dir. Todd Solondz

as Allen in Happiness
If you think you can stomach a Todd Solondz freak show, then this is the one to see. In Happiness, Hoffman plays Allen, a nervous, overweight prank-call addict with a taste for making disturbing phone calls to his neighbor, Helen (Laura Flynn Boyle). This is character-acting at its finest. The movie itself was cause for controversy in its stark black comedy.

Love Liza (2002) - Dir. Todd Louiso/Owing Mahowny (2003) - Dir. Richard Kwietniowski

as Wilson Joel in Love Liza
The early 2000s took Hoffman on a journey from odd supporting character actor to leading man. In the two indies Love Liza and Owning Mahowny, Hoffman plays downtrodden men with powerful addictions. In Love Liza, he plays a man stricken with the grief of loss and finding solace in motorized model airplanes and the fuel that runs them. In Owning Mahowny, he is a Canadian bank manager, who defrauds his own clients to fuel an incredibly reckless gambling addiction. Both of these small films have stuck with me over the years and showcase Hoffman's incredible range.

25th Hour (2002) - Dir. Spike Lee

as Jacob Elinsky in 25th Hour
Spike Lee's beautiful and devastating love letter to New York City post-9/11 features Hoffman in a supporting role opposite Edward Norton and Barry Pepper. He plays the best friend of a man (Norton) sentenced to five years in prison for drug dealing. Hoffman excels here as a private school English teacher pining for one of his students (Anna Paquin). This is one of my favorite movies of all-time and Spike Lee's best after Do the Right Thing. 

Moneyball (2011) - Dir. Bennett Miller

as Art Howe in Moneyball
In a master-stroke of casting, Bennett Miller (who also directed Capote) chose Hoffman to play real-life Oakland A's manager Art Howe. Howe is a frustrated man feeling constantly undermined (and rightly-so) by A's GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). Their scenes together are quietly funny and well-acted. Moneyball is also a great movie with a large appeal to anyone, not just baseball fans like myself.

Synechdoche, New York (2008) - Dir. Charlie Kaufman

as Caden Cotard in Synechdoche, New York
Hoffman ages about forty years in this inside-the-male-psyche movie from brilliant screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). He plays a theater director who struggles to stage his cathartic masterpiece as the years roll on and on and on. He, eventually, builds a replica of New York inside a warehouse as life plays out on his stage with no audience to even see it.

Capote (2005) - Dir. Bennett Miller

as Truman Capote in Capote
Truman Capote is a dream role for many actors. Nobody could have done as good a job as Philip Seymour Hoffman. It is his most daring and transformative role (hence, The Best Actor Oscar), and he nails it. The voice, the mannerisms, and the longing for truth as he writes his masterpiece In Cold Blood. 

These, for me, are the defining roles for a great American actor. A man who most (so I've read today) seem to say was a warm, friendly man. I imagine him as such. I will miss him. We all will, even if we don't know it.

Actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman don't come along often. I look forward to cherishing his work for years to come and sharing with my own children one day.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Hoffman.


  1. RIP, Mr. Hoffman. As for me, I am sickened at this death and have no words to express my love for this man... What was the movie, Kevin, where he played an offshore DJ?? saw this after seeing mr. wilson's war, the great leboski, capote and i remember thinking that there is no one better then this man... uncle david

  2. RIP indeed. I was back in my bedroom here at Folly Beach when I thought I heard Debbie saying to Jef that Philip Seymour Hoffman was dead. She said it in a way that she really wasn't sure who he was. I came and asked: what did you say Debbie? would you repeat that? I was absolutely NOT wanting to hear what I was hearing but she said yes that he had been found dead in his apartment with a needle still in his arm! Where are you getting this from Debbie? Someone had posted on Facebook the source being the New York Post. I said well let's just hang on here a minute but I guess it was all so vividly real. It was very unsettling to me, not only because I liked the guy and he would always catch my attention when on the screen but because I know what it is like to battle those demons. Those demons that want us DEAD! I believe there are many who will survive because PSH is dead. We will miss seeing him on the screen in new roles but Hoffman will live on through the many characters he has portrayed.

    “Music, you know, true music not just rock ‘n’ roll, chooses you.” ~ Lester Bangs

  3. Thanks for the comments. It's such a hard truth, a fact, of life that addiction exists. It is a purely evil disease. I feel so much pain for Phil Hoffman and his family as they endure such a devastating loss. He was in my top five (or even less) favorite actors ever. He will be missed by all even if they don't know it.

  4. Forgot to mention that I think the first time I saw PSH on screen was the movie "Scent of a Woman" starring the great Al Pacino. He was young and fresh and had a small role, but I noticed him immediately. He was going to be.