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Philip Seymour Hoffman: A sampling of reviews from a film career cut short

Philip Seymour Hoffman receives the award for Best Actor in Leading Role for "Capote" at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, March 5, 2006. (The New York Times)

Whether lighting up the screen in a cameo (as a socks-with-sandals activist who dumped Hope Davis in "Next Stop Wonderland") or turning in an Oscar-winning performance in "Capote",  Philip Seymour Hoffman had a long, illustrious career before his unexpected death Sunday. Here's a look back at some of the News' reviews of the movies that made him famous.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

No matter. Things get better in a hurry for those of us who aren’t among the “cool kids.” It’s not all that creative, mind you, but when defiant heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is forced back into another Hunger Games contest by the unspeakably corrupt and sadistic fascists running the future (Donald Sutherland and series newcomer Philip Seymour Hoffman), you’ll understand fully again how much of a triumph the “Hunger Games” franchise is in the blockbuster YA book/movie business.... [Donald} Sutherland as Fascist President Snow is enough to scare anyone. With Hoffman as his new, smirkily sinister No. 2, this is one dystopia almost anyone might consider a target for revolution.

    - Jeff Simon

"A Late Quartet":

What follows in Yaron Silberman’s exceptional “A Late Quartet” is as fine and uncompromised a movie about classical music as you are ever likely to see – a musically sophisticated movie entirely without pandering or crude popularizing. There is never a moment in this film that rings anything but true, from the first violinist’s quest for the perfect Siberian horsehair for his bow to Peter the cellist telling a master class about his earliest life encounter with the legendary Pablo Casals.

By the time it’s over, it’s been a complex and quite rich set of variations on life, love and work distinguished by a quartet of wonderful actors at the top of their game – Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir.

-- Jeff Simon

In any other film, Hoffman's performance as Dodd - whose combination of merry charm, philosophical fussiness and psychological weakness are perfect for a con man - would be the standout.
-- JS

This is a frustrated but very clever man fighting an absurd world where money and stupidity seem to bully the daylights out of everyone.

Caught in the middle are Robin Wright, as Beane's ex-wife, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, an old-school manager who doesn't understand this "moneyball" world at all.

-- JS

"The Ides of March":

Clooney plays the too-good-to-be-true candidate, Gosling plays his ultra-savvy, up-and-coming media magician and Hoffman -- the incarnation of overweight rumpled authority on 21st century film screens -- is his campaign manager, a peevish mass of acute cleverness and past political burn scars.

-- JS

Philip Seymour Hoffman opens "Jack Goes Boating" before the fade-in with one of his signature lethargic exhales. He's a heavy breather -- a big guy, too, but not oafish. Listen for it. It says a lot about where the next 89 minutes are headed.
-- Joseph Popiolkowski

"Pirate Radio":

Floating on the high seas is a group of lovable, early shock jocks led by "The Count," a scruffy American disc jockey played by the great Philip Seymour Hoffman. Other "crew" members are played by such notables as Nick Frost ("Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz"), Chris O'Dowd ("The IT Crowd"), the thin-as-a-pin wonder that is Bill Nighy, and the cheerfully unhinged Rhys Ifans.

-- Christopher Schobert


With the extraordinary Amy Adams as the innocent young nun, Streep as the principal and accuser and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the engaging and genial young priest, Shanley's film of his prize-winning play is a high-octane actor's extravaganza.

-- JS

So much of this is great or near great -- the wild domestic details (daughter Olive has, without explanation, begun to pee green), the constant off-the-wall humor, the loving Kaufman satire on the places where academe and low-level avant-gardism meet.

And the performances by the mind-boggling cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, magnificent, as The Artist Who Swallows Himself Whole; Catherine Keener as his coldly ambitious painter wife; Michelle Williams as the actress he takes up with. And it goes on and on and on: Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Noonan, Dianne Weist, Hope Davis.

-- JS

In a plot that jumps back and forth (with complete clarity), Hoffman and Ethan Hawke play brothers whose tenuous grip on their faltering lives is revealed to us slowly. Hoffman is a successful accountant in a stable firm, but he has this little drug problem that causes him to shoot up and nod off on his lunch hours in the plush New York apartment of one of New York's scurviest.
-- JS
"Where is the Rabbit's Foot?," scowls Philip Seymour Hoffman with skin-crawling deadpan menace. Hoffman is playing bad guy Owen Damian in "Mission: Impossible III" and he thinks Tom Cruise, as secret agent Ethan Hunt, can tell him. So he's tied Ethan to a chair across from Michelle Monahan as Hunt's fiancee Julia.
-- JS

Though half of America, at one point, knew exactly what Capote sounded like from countless TV talk show appearances, trashy movie cameos ("Murder by Death") and, would you believe, a Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, there are now a couple of generations who really have no idea who Capote was or what made that voice and delivery so archetypally sissified and comic.

Sadly, then, they'll have no idea how uncanny and magnificent Philip Seymour Hoffman is at reproducing Capote's way of talking. And that perfection of mimicry is only the beginning.

This is one of the great performances in contemporary movies, not just of 2005. Hoffman builds a rich performance on top of an impression that winds up eventually doing the most difficult and extraordinary thing that a film actor can do -- conveying, in silence, the complex thoughts inside his character's head.

-- JS

The celebrity guest stars do not fare as well. As Roger Beekman, Chuck's science fair rival, Matthew Broderick struggles to appear competently arrogant. Broderick's wife, Sarah Jessica Parker, plays the school's grief counselor, wearing what appears to be Jennifer Aniston's hair. As Henry, a lovelorn bureaucrat, Philip Seymour Hoffman looks as if he wishes he were back in "Capote."

-- Heather Violanti

The real laughs come from supporting actors Alec Baldwin, as Rueben's schmaltzy boss, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Sandy, Rueben's childhood best friend, now a washed-up former child actor.

Not 30 seconds into "Along Came Polly," Hoffman, as Rueben's best man, falls spectacularly. He hurls himself to the floor, more like. He flings and rebounds through every scene he's in with the grace and timing of a physical comedian. I don't think anyone would be happy if probably the best character actor of his generation makes a steady diet of these movies, but his turn as a blond Jack Black in "Polly" is great.
-- Elizabeth Barr
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a scoundrel preacher running away from village shotguns. Natalie Portman plays a terrified and beleaguered war widow with a baby. Brendan Gleeson, with a banjo, shows up as Zellweger's estranged daddy. You can't imagine how welcome his music is, if only to shut Zellweger up.
-- JS

"Owning Mahowny":

Director Robert Kwietniowski seems to be drawn to pathos. His latest film, "Owning Mahowny," fairly smacks of quiet desperation, from the grayed cinematographer's palette to the startlingly empty excess of the casino gambling portrayed. The film's anti-hero, Dan Mahowny (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is so full of desolated compulsion he is like a glass filled to the spilling point, the tension of maintaining composure visible on his face and audible in his laugh.

-- Kate DeForest

"25th Hour":

[This] film, though, is a powerful mood piece about guilt, fear and friendship. It's quite affecting by the time it's over.

Hoffman plays Monty's diffident, heavy-breathing old prep school buddy who's now back teaching in the same school. Anna Paquin - all grown up since "The Piano" - plays an ambitious student he illicitly hankers for. Pepper plays Monty's hotshot stockbroker friend who always scores with women. Rosario Dawson plays Monty's long-suffering girlfriend.

-- JS

Almost Famous, as rock critic Lester Bangs
In [Cameron Crowe's] fictionalized version of his life, he becomes 15-year-old William (Patrick Fugit), whose rebellious older sister leaves home, bequeaths him her rock records and sets him on the course that changes his life. He falls in love with what he hears in his bedroom. He wants to write about it. He solicits advice from Creem editor Lester Bangs, the great, antic, word-flinging rock critic of the time (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman).
 -- Jeff Simon
(Jeff Simon, in his column today, notes that Lester Bangs died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs and Nyquil in 1982; while Hoffman died of a heroin overdose Sunday.)  
So what you've got here, with wisecracks popping all over and farce constantly threatening to break out, is Alec Baldwin as the jailbait-seeking male star, Sarah Jessica Parker as the, uhhhhh, high-strung female star, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the befuddled and ultra-sincere writer, William H. Macy as the film's high-powered director and, God bless him, Charlie Durning as the town's mayor who keeps being dissed by one and all....

It's cynicism on pumpernickel, washed down with designer water and smugness. It's meant to appeal to us by letting us in on the in-jokes of "Grand Figures" - all of which makes it a surprisingly conventional send-up of conventionality. It's OK, mind you, but boy, did they ever do this sort of thing better in the '30s.

If the movie has a soul at all, it's in the performance of Hoffman, a performance altogether better than this movie probably deserves.

   - Jeff Simon
From the minute Philip Seymour Hoffman bursts onto the screen as Rusty Zimmerman, a flaming New York City drag queen in flowing caftan, full makeup and impeccable nails, "Flawless" is all about him, a boy who enjoys being a girl -- so much so that he'll do just about anything to raise the cash needed for the hormone shots and surgery to become one.
                       - Lauri Githens
For all the high-gloss, magazine cover profiles of the performers (and a big push is now behind Jude Law who plays Dickie), the only actor here who gets your attention and keeps it is Philip Seymour Hoffman as Freddie. He is preternaturally apt. This may be the most perfect American movie version of an upper class twit since the '30s, when it was something of a movie specialty.

Hoffman, who soon win admirers in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia" is having the kind of year Kevin Spacey had when he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Hoffman is unlikely to get that kind of recognition this year. But, along with chutzpah like Minghella's, it's his kind of actor that keeps movies alive and flourishing.

                                                  - Jeff Simon

 Todd Solondz's Happiness
 And that's what "Happiness" probably is -- a long string of dark, dark jokes about anguish by an appallingly capable artist whose most meaningful encounter with life was probably through a glass screen two inches thick. It takes vengeance on everything in the world that isn't covered by two inches of hard glass. It isn't just a geek's-eye view of domestic life, it is a vengeful vision of domestic life as an infinitely grotesque variety of geeknesses.
His actors do work of almost demonic brilliance. Philip Seymour Hoffman -- in a constant film of sweat and heavy breathing -- is the telephone harasser of the capable, literary sister. Ben Gazzara and Louise Lasser (of "Mary Hartman" fame) play the sisters' parents, about to divorce.
          - J.S.
 In the first scene of the movie, for example, Phil Hoffman as Erin's departing activist boyfriend Sean is hilarious as he improvises on his reasons for leaving her, referring to a videotape that he has made to explain himself. "You're turning me into a man of violence," he hollers and then helpfully adds, "That's point eight on the tape."
                  - Richard Huntington
Other movies from Hoffman's career included (not a complete list):
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