Sunday, February 2, 2014

RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967 - 2014)

Death almost always comes as a surprise. The loss of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was found dead of an apparent drug overdose in his New York apartment this morning at the age of 46, comes as a devastating shock.

When you devote your life to film criticism and study, you find that there are certain figures that you constantly find yourself gravitating towards. Hoffman had that kind of magnetism where, even if his performance wasn't exactly the right fit for a film (and sometimes it wasn't), you couldn't take your eyes off what he was doing. Many comparisons have been made to Heath Ledger, whom he was Oscar-nominated against twice (Hoffman winning Best Actor in 2005, Ledger winning Best Supporting Actor in 2008). Those comparisons are apt: both men imbued so much humanity and grace into their characters.

I won't break down his entire remarkable career; go to his IMDb page and rent any given title on there, and be amazed by what he was capable of (in particular: any of his collaborations with Paul Thomas Anderson, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, and his Oscar-winning Capote). His career simply can't be summed up; it demands to be witnessed. The one performance I keep coming back to in my mind, though, is his Caden Cotard in Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York. When I was in school, my term final for American Independent Cinema was to explain Kaufman's cinematic project using Synecdoche as the focal point. I must've watched the film five or six times for this paper, and every time I was just mesmerized by how much of the film worked because of Hoffman's performance.

That was the great beauty of Hoffman's work: no matter who he worked with, he always seemed like the vessel of the film's themes, the audience's guide into the what the film was trying to say. He had a remarkable gift, and it's hard to fathom the idea that we won't be graced by it any longer.

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