The Ford Five: Philip Seymour Hoffman Scenes
It has been two long, difficult years since the untimely death of the greatest actor of the 21st century, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Hoffman was a towering screen presence. In his early years, he stole the show in every single supporting role he could, from dark indies like Happiness to big budget ensembles like Magnolia. Halfway through the decade, with his Oscar winning performance as Truman Capote, Hoffman became an unconventional leading man in his own, giving terrific performance after terrific performance.
Counting down his best performances would be too difficult; he gave at least a dozen phenomenal performances that would be almost impossible to rank. Instead, I’ve decided to focus on individual scenes. From schlubby antiheroes to rock n’ roll legends to demented middle men, Hoffman nailed every performance. Here are my top five scenes featuring the master himself, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The Threat – Mission Impossible 3
Phillip Seymour Hoffman was mostly known for his role in indie films, but his turn in Mission Impossible 3 proved he was more than capable of supporting big blockbusters. As the Russian villain of the film, Hoffman gave one of the most quietly menacing performances in any Hollywood action movie, warping his usual schlub persona into a man completely relaxed about what will happen to him.
In this scene, Hoffman ignores the fact that he’s being interrogated by Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt to deliver a disturbing, casually delivered threat to Hunt’s life. It’s a masterful monologue that could easily have been over-the-top if not for Hoffman’s pitch perfect delivery.
“I’m an idiot” – Boogie Nights
Hoffman first came to prominence with his roles in the ensemble films of Paul Thomas Anderson. It was said in the early days that Hoffman could stand out no matter how small the role or huge the cast, and Boogie Nights is proof of that.
As Scotty, the tubby sound recordist struggling with his homosexuality in the world of porn, Hoffman only has about ten minutes of screentime, but in this scene, in which he confesses his love for best friend and leading porn actor Dirk Diggler, Hoffman breaks your heart, even if you barely know his character. Speaking of PT Anderson…
Defending the Cause – The Master
Perhaps Hoffman’s greatest role and performance, Lancaster Dodd, the hypnotic cult leader in PT Anderson’s modern classic The Master, is certainly his most powerful. A towering, intellectual man prone to outbursts of rage and bile, the scene in which Dodd is questioned on his teachings give Hoffman the chance to show his deranged fury and power. Starting off perfectly reasonable (even if he is sprouting nonsense), he soon becomes so convincing as a man with no time for scepticism and science that he might just convince you of ‘The Cause’.
Uncool – Almost Famous
Most of Hoffman’s roles were angry, towering men or schlubby sadsacks, so it was quite lovely to see Cameron Crowe cast Hoffman as the intelligent, lovable Lester Bangs in his rock n’ roll magnum opus Almost Famous. The quietest, friendliest scene of his career, Hoffman plays Bangs as the ultimate mentor and friend, convincing a worn-out William that “all great art is made by the uncool”.
Like his roles in Boogie Nights and The Big Lebowski, Hoffman only appears in a few scenes but with this beautiful speech about how William is doing just fine, he stole the film away from the rest of the cast.
Another Broken Window – Charlie Wilson’s War
Why is this my pick for Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s greatest scene? Firstly, Charlie Wilson’s War is not a good film. It’s overlong, lacks drama, and is pretty fairly forgotten. Apart from one man, and especially one scene. Hoffman has played angry plenty of time (just watch any of his scenes in Punch Drunk Love), but he was never quite as furious or as articulate as the pissed off American spy smashing in John Slattery’s window.
You don’t even need to see the rest of the film; just sit back, play the clip, and enjoy one of the most entertainingly angry performances you’ll ever see. Philip Seymour Hoffman, you were quite possibly the finest actor of your generation, and cinema isn’t the same without you.
By Harry J. Ford
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