The Video Vacuum (thevideovacuum) wrote,
The Video Vacuum
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LEGENDS OF THE SILVER SCREEN: PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN

Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of this generation’s greatest actors. It’s a shame he died so young because the world has been robbed of a dynamite performer. Today, we honor Philip Seymour Hoffman with reviews for three of his films.

First up is…

MONTANA (1998) **

Remember that brief period of time in the late ‘90s when every indie movie was a Tarantino knockoff crime comedy with a hitman as its protagonist? Montana is one of those movies. But the protagonist in this one is a hitWOMAN, so it’s totally different.

Kyra Sedgwick plays said hitwoman. She works for kingpin Robbie Coltrane, along with her partner Stanley Tucci. When Coltrane’s girlfriend (Robin Tunney) runs off, he sends Sedgwick and Tucci to retrieve her. He also makes them take his fuck-up son (Ethan Embry) with them, much to their displeasure. Things get complicated though when the girlfriend offs Coltrane’s son.

Montana goes through the motions of the neo-noir ‘90s comedy/dramas, but it never really engages you. There are some moments where it threatens to come to life, although these moments are more of the exception than the rule. And like many of these kinds of movies, Montana features an accomplished cast stuck performing material that is beneath them.

Sedgwick seems to be doing a dry run for her Closer character and Coltrane is doing yet another variation on his underworld heavy shtick. Tucci fares the best (he’s pretty much incapable of giving a bad performance), but he’s clearly slumming here. And John Ritter has some good moments as a self-help guru-turned-kingpin too.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays Coltrane’s crooked accountant. It’s the same sort of role he got typecast in early on in his career. He played similar slimy WASP-y characters in Scent of a Woman and The Big Lebowski. Hoffman doesn’t particularly excel here, but then again, he wasn’t given much to work with. He does get a pretty cool death scene though.

AKA: Nothing Personal. AKA: Killer Games.

Next we have…

FLAWLESS (1999) ***

Robert De Niro stars as a conservative, homophobic policeman who suffers a debilitating stroke. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays a flamboyant female impersonator who lives across the hall. De Niro becomes a shut-in and won’t leave the apartment to go to physical therapy, so Hoffman offers to give him singing lessons to help rehabilitate his speech. At first, they are at each other’s throats, but eventually they grow to mutually respect each other.

Directed by Joel Schumacher (shortly after Batman and Robin), Flawless is a winning serio-comedy featuring two acting legends giving some terrific performances. The scenes of De Niro struggling with his disability are downright depressing. He’s partially paralyzed and can’t even open his pill bottle. When he sits alone with a loaded gun pointing to his head, you can’t help but feel for him. Hoffman is equally fine. He refuses to make his character a caricature. Instead, he creates a fully three dimensional character you care about.

Flawless is far from flawless, however. There’s a subplot about some crooks looking for missing money in the apartment building that often threatens to completely derail an otherwise engaging movie. This subplot is especially incongruous during the finale when things turn into an action movie briefly. But because the writing is so sharp and the performances are so good, it’s easy to overlook this clunky plot device.

Hoffman gets all the best lines like, “Can’t lives on Won’t Street!” and “I’m not Brother Theresa!”

And our final Hoffman flick is…

CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (2007) ***

Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) is a hard-drinking Congressman from Texas. While sitting in a hot tub full of strippers, he gets the idea to aid Afghanistan in fighting the Russians. The problem is, if America publicly helps the Afghanis, it would be an act of war towards the Russians. So Wilson gets help from a wealthy socialite (Julia Roberts) and a hotheaded spy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and together they stage a covert war.

Directed by Mike Nichols, Charlie Wilson’s War could’ve easily been a stuffy, boring behind the scene political drama. But thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s tight script, it never feels that way. And Nichols’ direction is fairly lively as well, so things never bog down. And while the film never knocks your socks off or anything, it is still consistently enjoyable throughout.

Nichols doesn’t beat you over the head with a message either, which I appreciated. Instead, he ends things with a sad scene where Wilson tries to raise a million dollars to rebuild a school in Afghanistan and is laughed out of the room. Earlier in the film, he easily raised half a billion dollars to fight a war, but when it comes time to build a school, no one lifts a finger. It’s just a small little scene, but it says a lot.

Hanks delivers a great performance as the freewheeling Wilson. He makes Wilson a likeable character, not only because he has a team of hot, buxom staffers, but because he’s extremely charismatic. And the way he conducts his private little war is fun. Because he’s under suspicion for cocaine use, no one suspects he’s trying to secretly win the Cold War nearly singlehandedly.

Roberts isn’t bad either as the bitchy rich benefactor. And Hoffman is great as Wilson’s disheveled partner in the crime. Hoffman and Hanks are awesome together, and it’s a shame they didn’t get to act alongside each other more often.

Next week’s Legend: Alec Baldwin!

Tags: .legends of the silver screen, c, comedy, drama, f, m
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