The Master (2012) Director – Paul Thomas Anderson
An immense loss. At 46, Philip Seymour Hoffman has left a towering body of work; a gold standard to compare with the best of American screen actors. Such a standard of work most of us can only dream of attaining in whatever professional path we choose and his brilliant performances and characters under the guidance of the mercurial Paul Thomas Anderson would be enough of a legacy for any one performer; his roles in Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love and The Master alone demonstrate his range and skill.
But Hoffman also excelled for a variety of directors across a spectrum of movies; his Oscar-winning turn asTruman Capote in 2005’s Capote, his sweaty, scheming everyman in Sidney Lumets wicked crime and punishment drama Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007), the genial, enigmatic Irish priest in John Patrick Shanley’s screen version of Doubt (2008), the tragically self-absorbed playwright in Charlie Kaufman’s mordant brainteaser Synecdoche, New York (2009), his ruthless and genuinely scary villain in blockbuster pabulum like Mission: Impossible III (2006), the dishevelled, maverick CIA Agent in Mike Nichols Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), his charismatic embodiment of iconic rock critic Lester Bangs in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous (2000), the hilariously unctuous aide/mediator in The Big Lebowski (1998) and one of his breakthrough roles as a strikingly creepy yet sympathetic social inadequate in Todd Solondz bleak mosaic of modern dysfunction, Happiness (1998).
There are several roles I’m sure I have left out here but by any performers standards, that is a mightily impressive string of credits achieved over the course of two decades, a canon in itself to be studied and admired by budding acting and film-making students. The actors first on-screen role was suitably enough,in an episode of the venerable crime series Law & Order, set and filmed in his home town of New York and he most recently appeared in Catching Fire, the second installment in the blockbuster Huger Games franchise as well as A Most Wanted Wan, Anton Corbijn’s spy drama which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
For what it’s worth, his embodiment of Lancaster Dodd, the L.Ron Hubbard-seque cult leader in the exasperating yet spellbinding The Master and his epic on-screen psychological tete a tete with the possessed Joaquin Phoenix as the disturbed Freddie Quell is one of his finest portrayals; a mixture of brutal intelligence, sly deception, maniacal self-belief and coiled physicality, as intimidating and as charismatic as Phoenix’s Quell.