I know some people who are insufferable snobs about movies. That’s a good thing, because they make my own slightly less stringent snobbery look much more tame in comparison. Once upon a time, I wasn’t so, but there was a movie so vile and atrocious that it broke me (fuck you, Dracula 2000). I can now no longer suspend my disbelief as easily as I once did. Can’t just sit back and enjoy a stupid movie full of explosions for no reason. It has to draw me in with competent writing, and directing, and most especially acting.
And so we come to the main topic here, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Every critic and entertainment writer in the world seems to be eulogizing the hell out of him. I kind of hate to pile on to the bandwagon, but the thing is, most of them are right: he may well have been the greatest actor of the past 20 years. Did you notice? I didn’t, at first. Seriously. It didn’t dawn on me that he was so incredible.
Here’s a fun exercise. Go watch Charlie Wilson’s War. Right now. Don’t keep reading until you have. Ok? Good, isn’t it? Hoffman, as Gust, was acting opposite Tom Hanks and with Julia Roberts. Both Oscar winners, and incredible. You recognize them. They’re both great actors. But you still notice they’re acting.
Now look back at Gust. Do you see an actor there? No, not really: it’s like they brought in some guy and said just be yourself and read these lines. And it was so perfect you couldn’t tell, as if your eyes kept slipping away from him and back to Hanks. There’s nothing to see here, there’s no acting to review. It transcends it. Every line is as natural as if you were chatting with someone at work, including his opening scene with his little blow up.
That’s the sort of thing that lets you sink into a movie. You don’t sit there considering performances. Your brain merely glosses over that bit. “Yup, everything as it should be here, but how is Hanks doing…”
I always liked PSH during his career. His acting brought out a script, or the emotions of a scene, far more than just, well, highlighting the acting. I regret now not having paid quite such rapt attention before.