Friday, 5 March 2010

Performances of the Decade (Male)

I liked the nineties more, even if I can’t remember them clearly (I was a babe) and even if I need to see more films from the period. Still, one thing about the aughts is seeing how many actors made their mark as inventible screen presences. Does anyone remember the guy who played Jude Law’s ally in Cold Mountain? I mean, he made my shortlist, but I don’t think anyone was expecting that guy to turn into one of the most important actors of the last half of the decade racking up three (almost) consecutive nominations – and a win, too. Personally, I think he’s brilliant. Yet, he was snubbed for his greatest contribution this decade – at least I think so.
        
#11 Philip Seymour Hoffman in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead opens unceremoniously. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei are having sex in what looks like the least romantic of styles. Lumet never was afraid to shock us and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a close look at a family more pervasive than the usual family drama. It’s the kind of film where perspective is difficult to attain until we’ve stepped back and examined the entire film after the credits have rolled. Hoffman has always had the ability to unnerve the audience, his excellent Capote was a bit too suspicious and even though he made Father Flynn congenial enough the cards were already decided and there was no need to doubt his guilt. It’s this intimidating manner of his that he uses to full effect as Andy Hanson.
          
Andy is a tyrant in some ways and this is most perceptible in the brilliant scenes opposite Ethan Hawke. Hoffman has a way with flashy dialogue and from the most superficial of levels he thrives here. But, what makes him so invaluable to the screen is his ability to turn the tables. Forced to pin down one scene in particular to validate Hoffman’s inclusion on the list – I’d have to single out the tour-de-force battle against Albert Finney (playing his father). Someone said once it was like watching two wild animals go at it, and when it comes to the ferocity they’re not wrong. The similarities between Finney and Hoffman are not inadvertent and Hoffman’s breakdown is brilliantly executed. It’s unnerving, but in a different way. Notice how Maria Tomei is almost repulsed by the show of emotion in the car. Her Gina is notoriously weak and can’t handle this breakdown. I love how Hoffman responds in turn to her noncommittal reaction. Or how he goes to his drug supplier - so broken. But still not humane enough for us to feel anything other than discomfort.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is – after all – a film about dealing with personal demons when life twists your life up. Hoffman’s confrontation with the conman at the end is brilliant like all else, it is in some ways more of a showcase for Hawke but even when he’s not the centre of the scene he never plays second fiddle. It’s a scarily brilliant turn and it’s a pity that such a well made film with all these great performances was ignored. Philip Seymour Hoffman has made some indelible contributions to cinema in the last decade and I only hope that he continues to be as prolific in this one. He’s not the typical leading man, and it’s strange when an actor hits their stride at his age. But he has the talent to pull it off.
           
Were you impressed by PSH in Lumet’s recent film? Or does another of his performances impress you?

5 comments:

Mike Lippert said...

Out of all the great Hoffman performances this decade, this is the one I would have chosen too. It's unfortunate that the film is so underrated because it really does rank as one of Sidney Lumet's best and that's really saying something considering Lumet has directed more masterpieces than some people direct their entire career. Good choice. Hope this propels people to go check out the movie as well.

Danny King said...

I would say either this or Doubt is his best performance of the decade. I think this particular character is a much more difficult one to play, but the scenes he had with Meryl Streep in Doubt was some of the best back-and-forth acting sequences I've seen in quite a while.

joe burns said...

Haven't seen this!

Nigel said...

He so happens to be my favourite Actor.

Bill Thompson said...

While I initially liked BTDKYD, I have found that as time has passed it has generally faded from my memory. However, Hoffman's performance hasn't, but not for the same reasons as you.

I found his performance in BTDKYD to be a great example of when a director needs to get involved and reign in his/her actor. Lumet stayed on the sidelines and Hoffman hammed it up beyond belief, trying to steal every scene and going far too big, and that's why I find this one of his weaker performances.