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Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2006 10:05 pm

Hoffman’s Capote

It’s hard to imagine another actor playing the role of the quirky, complicated author

When I heard that Philip Seymour Hoffman had been cast as Truman Capote, my initial reaction was “absolutely perfect.” I couldn’t imagine another actor more convincingly handling Capote’s well-known physical quirks. His performance easily rises above the level of mere mimicry. We see the painful transformation Capote undergoes through his investigation into the murders that formed the basis of his bestseller In Cold Blood. Hoffman also perfectly nails Capote’s dry wit and induces his own laughs with well-timed delivery. It’s a gem of a performance and one of the clearest choices in Oscar history. Who is Philip Seymour Hoffman? He is hardly a newcomer, but few know him by name. Hoffman’s stagnating early career was rescued by Scent of a Woman (1992). He stood out in a small part as a creepy school friend to Al Pacino’s companion, played by Chris O’Donnell. Hoffman’s quirky persona and penchant for offbeat films kept his career progression moving slowly, but his role as a storm-chaser in Twister (1996) finally gave it a needed boost. Hoffman, however, continued on the path of independent film, becoming one of its most recognizable faces. He became a member of Paul Thomas Anderson’s stock company, appearing in that director’s four feature films: Sydney (aka Hard Eight) (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), and Punch-Drunk Love (2002). Hoffman gave excellent performances in all but the first, in which he is barely seen. Love Liza (2002) was one of the first opportunities to see Hoffman in a great lead role, and fortunately the film has nothing to do with Liza Minnelli. Instead Liza, who has committed suicide, is the wife of Hoffman’s character. He is a basket case, and his inability to deal with the loss drives him to inhale gasoline fumes, which in turn leads to his involvement with radio-controlled planes. It’s just as goofy as it sounds, and Hoffman is at his demented best. Owning Mahowny (2003) is one of those small films that had the potential to break out but failed to attract much attention. Hoffman, in a more serious role, stars as a banker who commits fraud in his own bank to feed his gambling addiction. The story is true, and Hoffman shows that his range is wide enough to handle drama. Next Hoffman will take a detour into commercial cinema with Mission: Impossible III. Let’s hope he doesn’t abandon his oddball roots.
New releases on DVD on Tuesday (Feb. 21): Rent, The Weather Man, North Country, and Domino.
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