Philip Seymour Hoffman: A Bitter Farewell to a Master

miloHey Pal:

I could be wrong but I’ll bet no one ever said: “Hey, let’s go see the new Philip Seymour Hoffman movie this weekend.”

And that’s a shame because the actor – whose tragic, stupid death of a heroin overdose more than a week ago still stuns me – was one of the very best actors working in Hollywood.

He was not known as a leading man, was not the guy expected to carry a movie to box office gold like a Tom Cruise or a Brad Pitt.

But nor was he your typical character actor either. Character actors are those chameleons you’ve seen a thousand times but you couldn’t name anything they’ve been in; the guy whose job it is to blend into the fabric of a film.

Hoffman sure as hell wasn’t that either. He played far more supporting roles than leading roles, to be sure, but he never faded into the background. When he was on screen, he made his presence felt. He shone through. He could play anyone but he was still always himself.


He won an Oscar for Capote and probably should have won at least two others, and there are about 50 movies you could watch to see the guy’s awesome range, but when I think about Philip Seymour Hoffman I have always, and will always, associate him most strongly with the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.

What a marriage. A brilliant visionary director and a magnificent actor. Here’s a rundown of some of the magic they made together:

Scotty in Boogie Nights

boogie nights boom

One of Hoffman’s breakthrough roles, playing a loser amongst losers in the late 1970s/early 1980s porn movie industry. He’s a boom operator, merely tolerated by those around him, secretly harbouring lust and love for Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler. His pent up desire, frustration and hopelessness ooze and twitch out of him in every scene. What a tough role for a new actor to play – to do something where you know you’re going to look your absolute worst.

Phil in Magnolia


Next, Anderson cast Hoffman as the nurse tending to Jason Robards’ dying old man, and who suddenly finds himself with the unenviable task of having to fulfill that man’s very difficult last wish. Magnolia is one of my favourite films – as bold, ambitious and unique as they come – and while it is populated with many lovely, endearing characters, Hoffman is, for me, the big beating heart at the centre of it all.

Check out the scene when he has to say “This is the scene in the movie where you help me out.” In lesser hands such a line could turn to schmaltz, but Hoffman fashions it into a noble, irresistible plea.

Dean Trumbell in Punch-Drunk Love


Hoffman’s pudginess and pale face do not bring to mind a villain, but Anderson had the guts and vision to give Hoffman a crack at being the bad guy in this fantastic, bizarre little romance. His mattress salesman/swindler is a vile prick who is, for a good deal of the movie, menacing. All the sweetness he showed in Magnolia disappears like it never existed.

Lancaster Dobbs in The Master


Finally, there’s the incomparable Lancaster Dobbs in The Master. His cult leader chews apart the scenery and owns every room he’s in, whether he’s being charming and seductive or exploding with fury. Love him or hate him, he is magnetic and commanding throughout, and he is a million miles away from Boogie Nights’ poor bumbling slob Scotty.

hoffman-master pose     Philip Seymour Hoffman Boogie Nights

punch-drunk-love3     Hoffman-Magnolia-reelgood

Three things you can say about these roles: they are all indelible, they bear zero resemblance to one another and, despite their dissimilarity, they are all unequivocally Philip Seymour Hoffman performances.

Not many actors can pull that off. Hoffman truly was a master.

It pisses me off that he’s gone. He had so many years of movie-making still ahead of him.

It pains me to think of all the “Philip Seymour Hoffman movies” that we won’t get to see.

Before I sign off, I have to include a link to another tribute to Hoffman. Peter Howell of the Toronto Star says all that I say here and more, and says it better. Check it out: Howell on Hoffman.

Later, Pal.


Philip Seymour Hoffman
July 23, 1967 – February 2, 2014



8 responses to “Philip Seymour Hoffman: A Bitter Farewell to a Master

  1. I absolutely love this tribute to Phil. I too associate his works with PT Anderson more than anything else, although I did love him in Capote, Along Came Polly, Charlie Wilson’s War, and most noticeably, Almost Famous…But I just wanted to point out that he was also in PT Anderson’s first film, Hard Eight…And if you want to read an exceptionally poignant and beautiful tribute from another Paul Thomas Anderson regular, check out this article highlighting what Philip Baker Hall said about PSH…

  2. Hi Kim:
    Thanks for your comment. Totally agree with your picks. I’d also add Owning Mahone and the Big Lebowski. It goes on and on with Hoffman! And thanks for the reminder that he’s also in Hard Eight, which is actually a big hole in my movie watching; I have yet to see it, shame on me. I’ll get to it one of these days. In the meantime, I’ll check out the tribute by Philp Baker Hall.

    • Just prepare yourself, reading what PBH wrote brought me to tears…I’ve cried like a baby on 4 separate occasions already, I’m really having a tough time with this one. I was ruffled by Heath Ledger’s death too, but there’s just something that feels so wrong with this one…I hate to say this, but I would almost rather it have been anyone else in Hollywood rather than PSH. There are a dozen or so actors that would impact me as deeply if they passed, but that’s about it. I actually have yet to see Hard Eight or The Master, which is terrible because PT Anderson is my favorite filmmaker of today (Stanley Kubrick being my all time fave) But yeah, there are several other movies of his that I haven’t seen yet too; Flawless, 25th Hour, Moneyball, The Ides of March, Synecdoche NY, Pirate Radio, God’s Pocket, A Most Wanted Man, geez, I’ve gotta get on the ball! Thanks again for this awesome memorial to the genius, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

  3. Yeah. Owning Mahowney was a favourite of mine too. So sad to see such huge talent lost to addiction. Why is it that folks who are blessed with huge talents often succumb to addictions….Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Elvis Presley. The list just goes on and on.

  4. An always forgotten gem from himself is Love Liza. If you haven’t seen that please seek it out. It is depressing and beautiful. You might want to wait a bit because it might be a too soon kind of thing.

    • Yeah, that was a great one. Another one that was good was The Savages with Laura Linney…and one that you should really check out if you haven’t already is a film by Todd Solondz called Happiness. I must warn you though, it’s very graphic and disturbing, that’s just how Todd Solondz operates, but it’s definitely worth watching.

  5. Kim: Just read Hall’s tribute and, yeah, it was powerful. Thanks for sharing it. Also watched that scene from Hard Eight — another great example of Hoffman ripping it up. I have seen Happiness. It was amazing but I don’t think I could endure a second viewing!

  6. My most memorable performances were Magnolia and Ripley. This was a wonderful tribute to a fabulous actor and a tragic end to his sad life. It is hard to imagine but as was pointed out, the biggest geniuses tend to have dark pasts and demons to live with. Such a loss.

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