Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Phillip Seymour Hoffman Complex

Much like my Dreamworks Animation complex that I spoke of yesterday, I have a similar predicament with Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I generally dislike the man's performances. I thought he was all sorts of "quite good" in Capote, but other than that it takes a good stretch to think of another performance by the man that I have enjoyed. I eventually remembered Happiness, but only after checking out his IMDb profile. Oops. I may have liked him in 25th Hour too, but it's been a while since I saw that movie and I unfortunately didn't see either The Savages or Before the Devil Knows You're Dead from 2007 (blame bad distribution for that).

So I went into my screening of Doubt not expecting to like him much, if at all. I figured it would be the typical ugly screaming and sweaty grotesquery (new word, okay?) that he's made so synonymous with his performances. I figured Meryl Streep would breathe a faint breath and he would get blown off the screen. And yet something odd happened upon leaving the cinema. I actually thought he was... good? No, not good. Very good. How did this happen?

Of course, it helps that I liked Doubt a lot, too. I generally respond quite well to these sort of small (I believe they like to be called "intimate") quiet stories featuring small casts sprouting lots of eloquent dialogue. The performances were all very good, actually. Streep - whilst occasionally verging on camp - is delicious with her acid tongue and tightened face. I liked the way Amy Adams occasionally let her innocent guard down, obviously or not, and Viola Davis is as amazing as you have heard in her brief but memorable role as the mother of a potentially abused child. Hoffman, I felt, struck a great balance between creepiness and charm, something that I've never particularly felt from him.

In regards to the central plot, I know what I think happened, but I wouldn't dare spoil it for anybody. Of course, I picked it up just by paying attention to three of the peripheral characters and perhaps I was just seeing things that weren't actually there. Nevertheless, I liked Doubt a lot and I'm definitely far fonder of this than many others who didn't too much care for the lack of resolution. My only major fault, while having to do with the ending, actually relates to Meryl's "I have doubts" reading, which seems awfully theatrical for a movie that did a fairly decent job of eradicating that dreaded "filmed play" look while still being interior and nigh-on-claustrophobic (thank the lovely art directors for that) although director and writer John Patrick Shanley's weird tilted camera idea was unnecessary.

The Sound of Music this is not. B+


J.D. said...

It's a damn good movie, but it seemed like Shanley was trying not to actually direct it? That was my major problem with the film itself. It's still awesomely written and performed, despite. Davis blew everyone away by miles and miles, tho.

As for PSH... admittedly, it's probably one of his better performances. But I'm sorry, I can't acknowledge him as a potentially pedophilic priest as "good". It was like all my nightmares coming to life before my eyes. DID NOT WANT.

Guy said...

You didn't like PSH in "Love, Liza"? Tsk.

I admit it, I'm a fan.

PS. Substitute the "y" in "grotesquery" with an "ie" and you actually have an existing word. You're so much more lucid than you know ;)

Dame James Henry said...

I'm actually quite fond of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but I found his performance in Doubt to be loud and overblown. Why did he choose to SHOUT EVERY SINGLE LINE? The only member of the cast I was particularly taken with was Meryl Streep in full on bitch mode; Amy Adams could have done this performance in her sleep and Viola Davis was quite good, but I think a Best Supporting Actress nod is a little far.

I thought Doubt was a pretty good movie, overall, although I was one of those who didn't like it's lack of resolution. I'm curious, however, if we're coming to the same conclusions about the plot, because I swear I saw things too that Shanley never explicitly addressed in the script.

Anonymous said...

Boogie Nights!

Sally Belle said...

Hoffman was great in The Savages and Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

I thought both of those films were better then Doubt.

I was not into the performances at all. They were very over wrought. And when Meryl Streep is getting her lunch eaten by Viola Davis...what the hell!

I hate to say it, but I don't think Meryl deserves to win this one.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Quickflix is sending me The Savages... how eerie.

J.D. said...

The Savages is really good, and he's really good in it, actually? I didn't mind him whatsoever Best of his perfs from '07 by far.

Of course he gets blown outta the water by Linney and then some, but that's always a given.