I’m gonna go a little bit off the rails here with my double feature concept and do not really a “themed” double feature as much as a “my favorite” double feature.
The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman a couple of weeks ago hit me pretty hard.
I hadn’t kept up with his personal life enough to know that he had admitted to having a drug problem, so it was especially surprising to me.
He was one of the most talented actors of his generation and heroin is an awful and lonely way to go for someone with so much going for them.
Here are a couple of my favorite performances by the man.
Sadly, we’ll never get to see what he would be able to do as an old man.
Sidney Lumet did some amazing work in the 70s and early 80s. Network, Dog Day Afternoon, The Verdict, Serpico…it was hard to do much better than his run. He kind of fell out of favor in the 90s and 00s, but he never lost his sense of purpose.
With his last film before his death in 2011, he brought us one last masterpiece. Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead is about brothers Andy and Hank (Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) who try to pull off a heist on their own parents’ jewelry store. They hire a couple of guys to do the deed, they get lots of money, their parents get paid back by the insurance company and everyone walks away if not happy, then not hurt.
Unfortunately, Andy and Hank forget to tell the guys that, under no circumstances can anyone get hurt. Things go horribly wrong. Then things get worse, if that’s possible.
Hoffman and Hawke work incredibly well together as the two loser brothers, Hoffman being the weaker of the two. A tragedy of almost Greek proportions, this is one of the best unsung films of the 00s with one of Hoffman’s best performances. Albert Finney, Michael Shannon and Marisa Tomei also put in some great performances. The whole cast won a couple of ensemble awards from different critics’ groups.
I haven’t seen the movie since it played the Austin Film Festival in 2007, but it’s always stayed with me. It breaths with the life of a 70s crime film, but is right up to date.
ALMOST FAMOUS (2000)
Written and directed by Cameron Crowe
I know I’ve written about this movie before, but it’s one of my absolute favorites. It’s also one of my favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman roles.
Of course, this is the story of Cameron Crowe…I mean William Miller (Patrick Fugit), a teenager who finds himself writing for Rolling Stone under the pretense that he’s older than he really is. He ends up traveling with Stillwater, an up and coming rock band in the vein of The Allman Brothers or Bad Company. Along the way, he falls in love with groupie, Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), who may or may not be into him…but she’s much more into the band’s guitarist/leader (Billy Crudup). Through all of this, William learns what it means to be a rock fan and a man.
Helping him from afar is legendary rock critic Lester Bangs (Hoffman). He’s crass. He’s rough around the edges. He hates everything that makes more than five dollars. And, most of all, he’s absolutely human.
Hoffman brought this guy to life in a way that probably no one else could have. Hoffman always had a handle on playing pathetic losers. (Just look at Happiness or the first film I ever saw him in, Scent Of A Woman.) Here he plays a man who knows that he’s a loser in a sense, but hides it from everyone but himself and, strangely, this kid that he begrudgingly took under his wing.
William calls him when he needs a quick pick-me-up and he never fails to be there for him.
His sagest advice: “They make you feel cool. But, hey. I know you, kid. You’re not cool.”
Written out like that it sounds like he’s making fun of the kid. But the way he says it, it comes off as a loving way of telling someone, “Don’t let them play you.”
I love this movie and I love Hoffman for the role he played in it. If this had been his only role, he would probably still be one of my favorite actors.
It was actually incredibly hard to keep this to a double feature. I tried to pick two movies that showed his range as an actor. You should also check out his work in any of the Paul Thomas Anderson films, The Big Lebowski, Mary And Max, Happiness and Mission: Impossible III.
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Jack Goes Boating (the film he directed) or Synecdoche, New York, a film that has been called the quintessential Hoffman film.
Check those out, too.