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Almost Famous poster

True to form for any great character actor, it’s not the size of a role but what you do with it. Such is the case with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s turn as infamous rock critic Lester Bangs in Almost Famous.

As frenzied rock critic radical, mentor and prophesier of doom to Patrick Fugit’s aspiring rock journalist, Hoffman’s interpretation of Bangs highlights his talent for creating the most out of the smallest of roles.

Although flu ridden and with four day to shoot his scenes, Hoffman worked his magic to turn his minimal amount of screen time into one of the most memorable performances in Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical coming of age rock drama.



The Talented Mr. Ripley poster

Throughout his career Hoffman had perfected the art of playing a smug asshole. It was that skill which made rich kid Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr. Ripley that much more of an insufferable twat, with his disdain for murderous sociopath Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) leading the audience to root for the “bad guy”, for while Ripley was a lying murderer he had some sense of scruples that the upper class, prep school bully Miles did not have.

Playing the unlikeable yet juicy character with a transparency rarely found in portrayals of such twits, Hoffman brought his A-game to a film filled with fine performances…and damn near stole the show while doing so.    




Mission Impossible 3 poster

The one thing the Mission Impossible series lacks when compared to the Bond cannon is a shortage of memorable villains. The third instalment in the series saw a change in that, thank to writer/director JJ Abrams stroke of genius in casting Hoffman as uber baddy Owen Davian.

Brimming with a despicable confidence that clashes well with Tom Cruise’s heroic poise, Hoffman proved that he is every bit as effective in the world of big budget blockbusters as he is in independent films. The scene where he threatens to bring Cruise’s super spy Ethan Hunt’s world crashing down on him is one of Hoffman’s best acted, period.  




The Savages poster

Hoffman’s comedic chops have often been under looked. Whether it is the ultimate brownnoser Brandt in The Big Lewbowski or trash talking former teen idol Sandy in Along Came Polly, the ever versatile Hoffman knew how to bring the funny.

The best example of this can be found in Tamara Jenkins tragicomedy The Savages where he played Jon, an emotionally crippled theatre professor who is guilted into helping his estranged, dementia riddled father. With Jenkin’s terrific screenplay as his guide and a great actor in Laura Linney to work with, Hoffman delivered one of his most well rounded performances filled with perfectly timed dry wit and heart breaking dramatics.




Before the Devil Know's You're Dead poster

Sidney Lumet was a director who knew how to bring out the best from his actors, so it was inevitable that Hoffman would bring his A-game to the crime-thriller- morality- play, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.

Hoffman played ruthless finance executive Andy Hanson, whose greed and crippling heroin addiction brought fatal consequences. It’s in this movie where we find Hoffman at his most terrifying and also his most bare, digging deep inside himself to reach levels of emotional anguish and trembling anger that left us mere mortals cowering in his wake.

A powerhouse performance of the intense kind, Hoffman’s turn in Before the Devil Know’s You’re Dead deservedly ranks alongside Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon, Newman in The Verdict and Steiger in The Pawnbroker, astounding feats of acting as directed by one of the greats.




Boogie Nights poster

For many the first introduction to Hoffman was via his turn as lovelorn loser Scotty J. in Paul Thomas Anderson’s porn industry epic Boogie Nights.

With parted long hair and delusional fashion sense, Scotty J. is a character that’s both pathetic and sympathetic, hanging with the good looking, confidant peeps of this porno gang with aspirations to be not only just like them but with them. Cue the awkward and sympathetic scene where Scotty makes his affections for golden boy Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) known.

It’s one of the best Hoffman acted scenes, and once again proves that no matter the size of the role, in Hoffman’s hands it will be the most memorable.




Doubt poster

When great actors go head to head, amazing things can happen. Such is the case with Doubt, writer/director John Patrick Shanley’s adaptation of his own prize winning play that dived head first into the child abuse crisis within the Catholic Church.

Hoffman plays Father Brendan Flynn, a new school priest who clashes against old school nun Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep in one of her best performances) whose suspicions renders an innocent man guilty….or is he?

With Shanley’s screenplay providing plenty of juicy dialogue, both Hoffman and Streep come out swinging in a slugfest of thespian proportions. Streep hits hard, but Hoffman counters even harder, with the ever meticulous actor taking to his task of playing a man of the cloth with an earnest passion and honesty, even going so far as to learn how to properly say mass through his handpicked “technical advisor” Father Jim Martin, a Jesuit priest and friend who would sadly also go on to conduct Hoffman’s funeral as well.     



Charlie Wilson's War poster

Great theatre actors are usually at their best on the big screen when they can go “all out”, and in Charlie Wilson’s War Hoffman got the opportunity to do just that, stealing scenes from a southern drawled Tom Hanks and busty Julia Roberts while doing so.

As Gust Avrakotos, Hoffman put a capper to an incredible 2007 in which every one of his performances (all listed here) was a winner. But it was with good reasons why Hoffman received an Oscar nomination for his work in Charlie Wilson’s War, with his portrayal of this no BS Greek American CIA agent and patriot one of immense power and high entertainment value, the type of role that great actors can thrust themselves into while walking that fine line between bombastic precision and over the top theatrics.

The rage, the humour, and (above all) the integrity that Hoffman has in spades are all here, blended into one lethal brew of a performance. Plus, the scene where he tells off his boss is one of the best FU’s to authority captured on camera.




The Master poster

There have been five collaborations between Hoffman and filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, great performances in great films that showcased Hoffman’s versatility as an actor. Yet Hoffman’s most complete performance for Anderson was also his last, that of cult leader Lancaster Dodd in The Master.

In his portrayal of a character who preaches about a trillion year old universe, space travelling souls and other psychological nuttery, Hoffman projects a confidence, wisdom and charisma that made it easy to understand why others would follow Lancaster’s path no matter how insane his well-articulated beliefs.

Once again it comes down to conviction in his acting, where even playing a charlatan is done so with earnestness and understanding of what is at the core of his characters. For Lancaster Dodd there are many assumptions as to why he has chosen his path of manipulation, yet it is only Hoffman who truly knows the truth behind the god complex.

“I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher. But above all, I am a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man,” is the popular line from The Master. No doubt when Anderson wrote it, he could foresee Hoffman delivering it with the sincerity it deserved, as only an actor like Hoffman could.




Capote poster

Hoffman has played a varied amount of characters throughout his career, yet up to 2006 rare was the moments where he played characters based on real people. In Capote, Hoffman was not only playing an acclaimed writer, but a damn near cultural icon as well in Truman Capote, whose look, sound and demeanour made him as unique an individual as there has ever been in American culture.

Hoffman prepared for four and half months to perfect this role that would go on to elevate him from character actor to leading man, winning every acting award in the process and proving he is more than a critics darling.

As always Hoffman went beyond the funny voice and quaint mannerisms of which Capote was known. Deep down he resided into Capote’s character (or lack of) and the conflicts that tore him up inside, as his relationship with Perry Smith, a convicted killer and main subject of true crime novel “In Cold Blood”, conflicted with his need to be a success.

In the end it saw the real life Capote turn into a shell of a man, never to write another novel and would be eventually ostracised by all who loved him. Hoffman wonderfully, poignantly, and masterfully recreates the moments when the soul of this man (who many considered soulless) is destroyed bit by bit by his own self-absorption and greed.

From the inside to out, Hoffman’s turn as Truman Capote is as magnificent display of thespian prowess as there can be. That it rest upon the top of his acting accomplishments gives credence to its power and -most of all- to its truth.   




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