Ways of Escape (Brennen Reid, @Brennen_Reid)

I never watched many Philip Seymour Hoffman movies. I had seen the big blockbusters, the Mission Impossible: 3’s, but I had never actually sat and watched a film where Hoffman could show his true skill. I always assumed he was a great actor, without actually experiencing his acting. I changed that. Through the course of my life, with dealing with struggles and hardship and heartbreak, I always turn to movies. Always. They are my escape – I get lost in the world of the film as I watch. Everything about me disappears. And Philip Seymour Hoffman, like other great actors, absolutely convinces us of his characters and makes that escape even more possible. He is not an actor on screen; he is Truman Capote; he is Gust Avrakatos and he is Jacob Elinsky (25th Hour). 

In Charlie Wilson’s War, he plays Gust Avrakatos, a CIA agent in charge of  gathering intelligence in Afghanistan. Charlie Wilson’s War stars Tom Hanks as well, playing the titular character, and Hoffman performs perfectly with a great actor like Hanks. Hanks is a scene stealer in every film he is in – except this one. Hoffman, playing a gruff, angry, sarcastic character, never allows Hank to completely run off with a scene to himself. Hoffman is the character you want to watch in this film. He, in my opinion, is the best part about it. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Best Actor Oscar award in 2005 for his portrayal of Truman Capote. He is able, in Capote, to convey every single tiny emotion. Capote is envious, flamboyant, boastful, and an incredible storyteller. He grows close to people, the subjects of his true crime novel In Cold Blood, and creates emotional bonds with murderers. He is manipulative as well as genuine. Hoffman navigates this complicated character with ease. He’s not playing Truman Capote – he is Truman Capote. With his spot-on voice (I watched some old interviews with the real Capote, it really is astounding how well Hoffman managed to get it right) and mannerisms, Capote comes to life on the screen. While not my favourite movie ever, Hoffman is brilliant. Those two characters are completely different. The rough crudeness of Gust is the polar opposite to the emotional Capote. Hoffman is able to pull them off equally well, and to disappear into each character. He is not one to collapse into a formulaic stereotype, to be bit-casted in the same role over and over like so many of his peers. His abilities were definitely the stuff of legend, and the response from the film industry as a whole is testament to his skill and achievements. 

However, the tragic story behind the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman isn’t the loss of such a great talent, it’s the drugs behind the scenes and the struggles that he went through personally that should be brought to the spotlight. Addiction and drugs have taken so many when help should have been there. Drugs seem like a normal thing in Hollywood, at least to us outsiders looking in. There’s always a new story about rehab, about some actor who fell off the wagon, about some celebrity who trashed a hotel room in a, to quote Rob Ford, “drunken stupor”. It gives off an aura of glamour, of luxury, that drugs and alcohol is what you do when you hit the big time. However, these are all just people, with people problems. Hoffman, I suspect, didn’t shoot up heroin to give off an aura of glamour. There is no glamour to it. Just addiction, pain and loneliness.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was an actor that set the bar high. He was someone who made every movie he was in good. He took his characters to another level – past figures on a screen and into real life. Explore some of his more looked over works. Pirate Radio, 25th Hour and Synecdoche, New York. I know I’m going to. And if you know someone who is struggling with addiction, let him or her know you’re there. Help them get help. You might save a life.

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