Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman


My phone was off to conserve battery, and to lessen potential distractions while I drank craft beers with new friends. So when I turned it on at around 3 PM on Sunday, the text messages started whirling in. Three turned to seven turned to 12; my only guess was that something tragic had happened. What I didn't figure was that a 46-year-old actor, beloved by audiences and critics alike, had shot himself up with a lethal dose of heroin the night before.

At this point, three days after his death, there's not much to say about Philip Seymour Hoffman that hasn't already been said. The Internet is quick like that.

But because I write for a movie blog, it's time to try. Now that he's passed on, and there won't be any new memories, what I'll always think about when it comes to PSH is Scent of a Woman.

Not because he's great in it; it's a two-man movie with the occasional dynamite drop-in from James Rebhorn. Hoffman is the fifth credit on the IMDB cast listing, perhaps deservedly so when it comes to screen time, but he basically exists to betray and antagonize Chris O'Donnell.

It's because of what came next. To go from that Al Pacino romp to Twister, one of the finest action films of the 1990s, and wrap that decade up with Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski and Magnolia is nothing short of phenomenal.

Throw Happiness into the mix, where he plays a delightfully creepy pervert who places numerous inappropriate phone calls to Lara Flynn Boyle, and that's six hefty performances in unique, occasionally iconic movies before reaching the age of 33. Even better, they were bite-sized renderings that left us wanting more.

The first time I remember him really taking over a scene was as the Mattress Man in Punch-Drunk Love. His most beloved role among cinema nerds is music critic Lester Bangs in Almost Famous, though it probably wasn't until Capote that the casual moviegoer took notice (an Oscar will do that). We all remember him banging (uncouth, but there's no better word for it) Marisa Tomei from behind at the beginning of Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, even if we've never seen the entire movie. And it was a lot of fun to see him step back for Capote director Bennett Miller and handle the relatively minuscule Art Howe gig in Moneyball. Not just anyone can put on a baseball jersey and engage in a battle of wills with Brad Pitt; that takes a special kind of man.

To be called upon by Sidney Lumet, Charlie Kaufman, Mike Nichols, Paul Thomas Anderson and George Clooney to handle such a vast range of characters crystallizes the respect he earned from directors. To slide so easily into villainous roles in Mission: Impossible III or Catching Fire without being branded a sellout or a hack shows the admiration he commanded from critics.

Does it matter what killed him? Maybe, but only because he seemed like the kind of person who would never die. For some reason, character actors have an eternal vibe to them. Hell, Harry Dean Stanton has been alive for what, 120 years? Even the character actors turned leading men -- Nicholson, Pacino, Hoffman, De Niro -- they live forever.

It would've been fascinating to watch Philip Seymour Hoffman age on the big screen. I think we all expected him to. But now he's gone, and there's nothing up next. He won't pop up in a trailer at the end of 2014 that'll get you excited for the upcoming year. He won't add his traditional dash of gravitas to a project that doesn't quite deserve such substance.

Now all we have is his verbal sparring with Chris O'Donnell; his cold, impenetrable conversations with Meryl Streep; his assisted masturbation at the hands of Amy Adams; his awkward laughter as Tara Reid offers to pleasure Jeff Bridges. It's a rich backlog of excellence, but it's not enough. Forty-six years couldn't possibly be.