6 Unforgettable Philip Seymour Hoffman Performances

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Synecdoche, New York
There’s no easy guide on playing someone like Caden Cotard, the protagonist of Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York. As befitting writer/director Charlie Kaufman, Cotard is not your typical lead character, -- a disgruntled New York playwright who places his life on hold to pursue a work that he finally deems true and real. He’s a character who has to appear intelligent in an attractive manner, but also distant… an inscrutable mess who can’t seem to keep track of his marriages or the age of his daughter. He has to be both maddeningly specific, but also a man lost in a slipstream of regret, emotional abuse and loneliness as he ages before he can count his own accomplishments.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone but Hoffman making this character affectingly concrete, both tragic and inherently unlikable. It’s a performance without vanity: Cotard’s body crumbles and his humiliations reach outlandishly scatological lows. But Hoffman has always had a deep reservoir of sadness and rejection, even in his most blustery roles. Kaufman’s film rarely takes you outside Cotard’s world, and so it’s Hoffman’s task to illustrate the feeling that Cotard’s unfinished experiment (a play within a play within a play within…) is wearing on him as well as his loved ones. He shatters so convincingly in this picture, to the point where it’s probably the most difficult film to watch in the wake of Hoffman’s sudden passing. When he finds the remnants of a gift he procured for his daughter in an abandoned alley, it’s as if a million mirrors have been shattered simultaneously, even as Kaufman downplays Hoffman’s typically-volcanic emotional explosion.

Difficult and dissonant, Kaufman and Hoffman’s collaboration is typical Hoffman: abrasive, difficult, funny and ultimately, deeply, life-affirming.


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