Philip Seymour Hoffman and the weirdness of watching dead men act


Still of Philip Seymour Hoffman in “A Most Wanted Man.”(Roadside Attractions)

When an actor dies before a film’s release, that film takes on outsize importance. Watching a performance by a person who can’t have known it’s among his last — that’s eerie.

Some examples: James Gandolfini in “Enough Said”; James Dean in “East of Eden” and “Giant”; Whitney Houston in “Sparkle”; Heath Ledger in “Batman”; and Spencer Tracy in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

The most timely example: “A Most Wanted Man,” one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final movies, is out today five months after the actor, who used heroin and cocaine, died of acute mixed drug intoxication at 46.

It’s hard to imagine Hoffman’s performance in the thriller, based on a John le Carre novel, is as unforgettable as his Oscar-winning turn in “Capote” — or his Oscar-worthy supporting role in “Boogie Nights.” (One caveat: We don’t know. You can’t see the movie in D.C. for about six more hours – but here’s The Washington Post review.)

But critics weren’t shy about making the connection between a role and the doomed man who played it.

The New York Times: “This is the last movie completed by Mr. Hoffman, who died in February, which invests it with a gravity that could easily have overwhelmed a less practiced director.”

The New Yorker: “The heroic quality in Hoffman doesn’t need softening. A great actor, he carried his despair and his outsized sense of responsibility with him to the end.”

The Los Angeles Times: “The last we see of Philip Seymour Hoffman in ‘A Most Wanted Man,’ he leaves his car and walks out of the frame. As it tragically turned out, he was exiting his acting career as well, and this taut, involving thriller, the late actor’s final starring role, is a fitting film for him to leave on, not only because it is so expertly done but because his role was so challenging.”

Unfortunately, Hoffman is not the first — and won’t be the last — actor who can’t make a premiere. Here’s a gallery about some of the others:

 

h/t Boston.com

Correction: A previous version of this slideshow reported that Burgess Meredith played the Joker in the television show “Batman.” The actor played the Penguin.

Justin Moyer is the deputy editor of the Morning Mix.
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