Famous deaths invite hyperbole. The news that Philip Seymour Hoffman was discovered dead today in an apartment bathroom, with a syringe sticking out of his arm, seems like an occasion to overreact with some exaggerated summary of his career—something like “most talented and kaleidoscopic actor of his time.”
Except, in this case, the compliment isn’t hyperbolic at all. It’s just an accurate description, as true yesterday as it is today. And the competition isn’t even that close.
The first thing about Philip Seymour Hoffman—that is, the first thing most audiences saw—is that he looked unremarkable, even boring. He had a hangdog countenance, often sliced with the swoop of his receding blond mane, with small, firm eyes. He wasn’t strikingly handsome, nor strikingly unhandsome, neither thin nor obese, not blessed with any distinguishing gosh-wow feature that would make somebody watching an early performance in Twister or The Big Lebowski exclaim, “I think we’ve found our next Brando.” Instead of standing out in these early films, he stood within them—gauging the pace and tone of the action around him and blending in so delicately that it’s not uncommon for even Hoffman fanatics to look back on his career and think, I forgot he was in that.
Read more. [Image: Sony Pictures Classics]