Commentary on Phillip Seymour Hoffman and His Lost Comrades

Philip Seymour HoffmanPrior to learning of the tragic death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, I was going to write a short tribute to the late Maximillian Schell. That all seems somewhat irrelevant now. Let me just say that Mr. Schell is always worth remembering from his role as Hans Rolfe, the defense lawyer in the classic Judgment at Nuremberg (1961). It’s a great performance in a great movie, and all of you who pursue the legal profession really should hunt it down for a second look.

But with the death of Mr. Hoffman, we have lost one of the great actors working in film today. His legacy is far too lengthy to adequately describe, but let me just hit on a few of his classics. Can any of you forget his role as Scotty J. in Boogie Nights (1997), or his contribution as the character Brant in the unforgettable Coen Brothers’ masterpiece The Big Lebowski (1998). It is fitting that he just appeared as Plutarch Heavensbee in the overwhelmingly fun The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and we at least have a chance to see him again when he appears in the next edition, due out this Fall.

However, if you want three small films that are as distinguished as Mr. Hoffman, then go see Moneyball (2011), The Invention of Lying (2009) and Charlie Wilson’s War (2007). You can’t find a more stimulating, funny character than his role as Gust Avrakotos in Charlie Wilson’s War.

In the end, we could simply remember him for his Oscar-winning role as Truman Capote in the movie of the same name (2005). And while it may seem a bit unfair, I thought that he personally had a lot in common with Mr. Capote. Something was clearly haunting both of them, and I am willing to conjecture that it played a large role in his heroin induced death.

The only comfort that I take in Mr. Hoffman’s death is his joining a group of young actors who have passed away under similar circumstances. Think of a character he resembled in many ways, the great Montgomery Clift, who died in 1966 at the age of 46.

While Mr. Hoffman could also be very funny, think of the early deaths of both John Belushi and Chris Farley, who were but 33 when they met their fate. Additionally, John Candy was only 43 when he died, and these guys can at least provide Mr. Hoffman with some very amusing company should there truly be some type of existence beyond this life.

Yes, the loveable James Gandolfini died this year, but at least he was 51. Though hardly old by any standard, his heart attack did not prevent a career etched in history, something largely lost to James Dean, dying at 24, River Phoenix at 23 and Heath Ledger at 28.

Quite frankly, the death of Mr. Hoffman reminds me of the death of Marilyn Monroe, who was only 36 when she died in 1962. They both left an indelible mark by finding a way to stimulate human imagination, and we movie fans can only be thankful that we were able to enjoy their company on the screen as long as we did.