Philip Seymour Hoffman is dead. Damn you, universe. Damn you.
I’m not sure there’s anything truly productive or enlightening to be found in a debate over which of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performances is the greatest. Every movie he touched was better for it. He is extraordinary in The Master. He won his Oscar for Capote, and rightly so. If I may quote myself:
[Capote is] about, although this only slowly becomes clear, Truman Capote’s capacity for self-deception, for avoiding facing his own mental reality, for not even understanding, probably, the source of his own genius. (Well, who does understand genius?) Capote is at first “merely” a darkly engaging portrait of a great American oddball, one that makes a point of agreeing with Capote himself, that he has been misjudged by those around him his whole life. Philip Seymour Hoffman doesn’t impersonate Capote: he embodies the author so intimately that there is no artifice or actorly showiness in the Capote-isms: the lisping, the dapperness — even when Capote is being deliberately affected, as when he tells outrageous and dubious stories at parties, Hoffman finds the sincere confusion and insecurity behind it.
Almost Famous. The Talented Mr. Ripley. Maybe my favorite of Hoffman’s movies, and performances, Synecdoche, New York, which was all about the meaning of art, a thing impossible to pin down and yet the chasing of which is everything.
Yet the Hoffman role that jumps out most for me is in Twister. I know: it’s a silly movie. (But underrated, too. An argument for another day.). Hoffman wasn’t famous then. So it’s not like we went, Oh, hey, it’s PSH! No, he just walked away with every scene he was in via some filmic alchemy that was uniquely his own. His character, Dusty, one of weather nerds working on tornado prediction, was barely more than part of the scenery, and yet, Hoffman forced us to pay attention to him… though never in any way that detracted from the larger experience. Quite the contrary: he helped create the illusion of a band of realistic science geeks working on a real problem that needs solving, and having a blast while solving it.
I suppose we can now assume that Hoffman was himself having less of a blast than it might have seemed to us. It’s very sad that someone who had achieved so much doesn’t seem to have taken as much pleasure in it as we did.