Philip Seymour Hoffman unexpectedly died today aged 46. It isn’t yet clear why but American cinema has suddenly lost one its most incredible talents.
I first noticed him properly in Almost Famous but by that point he had already given great performances in The Talented Mr. Ripley, Magnolia and The Big Lebowski, among others. Hoffman was always effortlessly brilliant, usually taking supporting roles but often stealing the film from auspicious leads such as Tom Cruise, Anthony Hopkins, George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
Obviously I was spoilt for choice in selecting just one hundred and twenty seconds from this guy’s filmography but I have gone for this one scene in Charlie Wilson’s War.
Philip Seymour Hoffman seemed to savour every line he delivered and in this case the words are those of Aaron Sorkin, a man who knows how to write conclusive put downs.
Hoffman’s CIA Agent Gust Avrakotos is in his new boss’s office. The large window separating the room from the rest of the floor has literally just been replaced because Gust smashed it the last time he was there. His superior, Cravely, thinks he is there to apologise for this but he really isn’t. He has been passed over for a promotion and he’s not happy.
He explains his grievance: “I’ve been with the company for twenty-four years. I was posted in Greece for fifteen. I’ve advised and armed the Hellenic Army. I’ve neutralised champions of communism. I’ve spent the past three years… learning Finnish! Which would come in handy here in Virginia, and I’m never ever sick at sea. So I wanna know why… I’m not gonna be your Helsinki station chief.”
Cravely tries to give it back but he’s no match. In the course of the conversation Agent Avrakotos delivers insult after insult, accusing his boss of infidelity, stupidity and douchbaggery. Apparently he didn’t get the job as he lacks diplomacy and he really isn’t making any effort to dispel that reputation.
On leaving the office he grabs a hammer from the glazer and smashes the window again, before delivering his final rebuttal:
“My loyalty! For twenty four years people have been trying to kill me! People who know how. Now do you think that’s because my dad was a Greek soda pop maker? Or do you think that’s because I’m an American spy? Go fuck yourself, you fucking child!”
Avrakotos then leaves the office, sweeping out like an affected teenager before asking one of the assembled subordinate staff, who have all been watching the whole altercation,-
“How did I do?”
Most of the two minute moments of perfect cinema I describe have great visuals or action but this is all performance and it is just brilliant.
How did you do, Philip Seymour Hoffman? You were just fantastic!