I was heartbroken when I found out about the recent death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman from a drug overdose. He was always an artist I really admired and his untimely death was an absolute loss to the film making world. As a little tribute to the wonderful legacy he left behind I am dedicating this week’s Film Friday to his memory. I am not suggesting that these are necessarily Hoffman’s best roles but I have already reviewed so many of his films already that I was left with very few, but my honest belief is that he stole every film he appeared in.
Geeky fourteen year old rock fan, William Miller (Patrick Fugit) dreams of being a writer so he sends his school magazine articles to his hero, Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a journalist with Creem magazine. Lester sees something in William and becomes a kind of a mentor for him, giving him his big break – an interview with Black Sabbath. Unfortunately for William his lack of cool makes it hard for him to get backstage but in the process he meets Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) and her group of “band aids” who introduces him to Stillwater, a band on the very edge of greatness, if they can just stop fighting amongst themselves. It’s not long before William finds himself on tour with Stillwater working on a story for Rolling Stone while his protective mother (Frances McDormand) panics at home. With the lure of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, an all-consuming crush on Penny and the chance to be cool for the first time in his life in the mix it’s going to take everything naive William has to stick to Lester’s insistence that he doesn’t make friends with the rock stars and maintains his integrity. To be fair the role of Lester Bangs is a relatively small one in Almost Famous but his cynical, jaded hack provides the perfect foil for fresh-faced William and you can almost imagine the boy Lester was and the man William has to avoid becoming. It’s hard to picture anyone but Hoffman playing him and the scene where he is being interviewed for local radio and insists on playing Iggy Pop in the middle of the day is brilliant. Fugit also does a great job of playing a boy on the edge of manhood who somehow manages to be the most mature person in the room even when surrounded by the much older members of Stillwater who have no intention of ever growing up. Although Almost Famous refers to a band on the cusp of fame it could just as easily refer to the cast, which is made up of an impressive list of actors and actresses who have gone on to make big names for themselves including Kate Hudson, Jay Baruchel, Zooey Deschanel, Rainn Wilson, Anna Paquin and Jimmy Fallon. This is the perfect film for every music fan who has ever harboured romantic notions of being on the road. It’s touching, funny and charming and has a cracking soundtrack to boot. 4.5/5
After accidentally ending up in the right place at the right time, working class Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) meets shipping magnate, Herbert Greenleaf (James Rebhorn) and leads him to believe he is a Princeton graduate. Herbert immediately takes to Tom and offers to pay him to travel to Italy and convince his playboy son, Dickie (Jude Law) to return home and sort out his life. Once in Italy, Tom befriends Dickie and his charming girlfriend, Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow) by pretending to be a former classmate and quickly worms his way into every part of Dickie’s life, even moving in with him and Marge. At first the friendship between the three is intense and exciting and Dickie finds Tom’s skills as a mimic and a forger very entertaining but when Dickie’s uber posh friend, Freddie Miles (Philip Seymour Hoffman) turns up Tom feels displaced and Freddie’s suspicions that Tom might be an imposter are aroused. It doesn’t take long for Freddie’s concerns to rub off on Dickie and he starts to distance himself from Tom. Tom doesn’t take the loss of his “brother” very well and when he snaps the unthinkable happens… but is Dickie’s demise an opportunity for Tom to reinvent himself? While Law is adequate as the charismatic, Dickie and Damon is impressively creepy as the obsessive sociopathic Tom, it’s Hoffman who gives the most memorable performance. In some ways Freddie is an utterly detestable snob but he is also incredibly shrewd and a protective of Dickie in a way that makes him something of an antihero and he throws himself into Freddie’s flamboyance with no holds barred. Disturbing, intense and immersive, The Talented Mr Ripley certainly delivers. 4/5
Risk analyst, Reuben Feffer (Ben Stiller) is a very cautious man who likes to plan out every element of life, which is why he’s convinced his life plan is complete when he marries, Lisa (Debra Messing). But when Lisa runs off with a scuba instructor (Hank Azaria) during their honeymoon he needs to rethink everything. While attending a party with his former teen movie star best friend, Sandy Lyle (Philip Seymour Hoffman) he runs into Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston), a former classmate. Polly is the antithesis of Reuben. Everything in her life is unplanned and disorganised and she loves living life on the wild side but somehow Reuben decides he should ask her out. As he spends more time with Polly he starts to learn that it is possible to relax and enjoy life, but what will happen if Lisa comes crawling back? With most of the “laughs” in this lame romcom coming from toilet humour and a blind ferret (yes, really), there’s not a lot to love about Along Came Polly. Anniston and Stiller have little chemistry, both are annoying and it’s hard to actually figure out why these two people would get past one date, never mind any kind of lasting relationship. The only saving grace is Hoffman who has a whale of a time playing the gauche, self-centred disaster area that is Sandy, with probably the best scene in the film being a two-on-two basketball match where Sandy keeps shouting out every shot he makes despite missing all of them. Unfortunately not even Hoffman’s power is enough to save this and the vast tranches of the movie where he is absent are way too long. 2/5
Following the success of Breakfast at Tiffanys, novelist Truman Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his best friend, fellow author Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) travel to Kansas to investigate and write a piece on the murder of a Kansas farming family. As he interviews the two killers develops a connection with Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr), a surprisingly intelligent and thoughtful man, whose childhood has some striking similarities as Capote’s. Deciding there is a book in the story Capote spends more and more time with Perry not only forming a close friendship but also providing legal assistance but as the case goes through appeal after appeal and Perry refuses to discuss the murder Capote becomes more and more frustrated that his book does not have a conclusion. A fact that is exacerbated by his huge jealously over Nelle’s success off the back of To Kill a Mockingbird. As his frustrations increase so does his attitude to Perry leading to a disturbing emotional tug of war. Hoffman’s portrayal of Capote with all his unusual mannerism and his way of speaking is astounding. He simply vanishes within the character in a way that makes his Oscar-win for the role absolutely deserved. At the same time Collins does an excellent job of playing a character desperately clinging to hope while in the midst of total denial. Of course what makes Capote so interesting is the subject’s capacity to use others for his own gain and how he attempts to justify this to himself and others. I was utterly riveted. Highly recommended. 4/5