“Perhaps all accidental deaths or suicides prompt the storytelling urge in us. We hardly need to know whether [Philip Seymour] Hoffman was addicted to drugs, or for how long; the actor was attached to pain, dismay, and the implausibility of himself for most of his working life. That’s why it is so hard to watch him without being weighed down by the near-constant message. It is truly remarkable that a man so conventionally unphotogenic sustained a movie career so close to stardom. Moreover, he seemed obsessed by that implausibility. In turn, a generation of actors learned to see him at the same time as a master and a wreck.”— David Thomson, “Death of an Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Unhappy Achievement,” The New Republic, April 7, 2014
I have no idea how good the screen adaptation of John le Carre’s A Most Wanted Man will turn out to be, but I can think of few actors who could better embody the gray, melancholy world of the spy novelist than Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays the role of a burnt-out-case of a German intelligence chief. If le Carre ever got around to creating American characters who were not the stereotypes of his books, but every bit the equal of their European counterparts in psychological complexity, he wouldn’t have had to look far to find someone with the vast skill to summon them up.
Hoffman’s drug-related death at age 46 this past winter is an enormous reminder of the huge and ongoing damage to American culture caused by drugs. Had the Oscar-winning lived into his mid-60s--still, not even the average male lifespan in the U.S. these days--who knows how many more awards he would have walked off with?