Synecdoche New York is, for me, one of the three best American films of the last 20 years. There’s not a more provocative example of cinema that addresses life, work, art and death that I can think of. The last scene is at once depressing and astonishingly liberating. It breathes life and soaring emotion into the grey edges of the postmodernist realm; Hoffman was exceptional in it, as he was in everything.

He stole the show in Magnolia – counteracting the brash ridiculousness of Tom Cruise with intense sensitivity; was magnificent in The Master – balancing barrel loads of arrogance and charisma with intellectual vacancy on a razor-sharp knife’s edge; and was at once brilliantly complex and tragically fragile in Capote. I’ll never forget his shimmering delivery of one of recent cinema’s most delicate lines: “It's as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front.”

 

This morning, though, I can’t help but think of him in the brutally disturbing thriller Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, injecting heroin in an apartment belonging to some high-end, urban Shaman-like drug dealer. It’s a film that will be forever looked back on with a hint of horror – a little too real, perhaps.

After hearing the news last night I spent an hour perusing videos on YouTube. I watched him emerge a disgustingly formidable talent in Happiness; parade with grotesque elegance in Boogie Nights; astound as Freddie Miles in Mr Ripley; I even spared a moment to laugh at him donning his sweats, charging round a basketball court in Along Came Polly. But most affecting was his Academy Award acceptance speech in 2005: in reality, outside his magnificent characters, there seemed something desperately sad about him. As an actor his emotional investment and ability to convince you of personal catastrophe was second to none, as a person, I imagine, he wasn’t far behind. The two often come hand in hand.

In light of yesterday’s terrible news, the next 20 years of cinema feel considerably less exciting than they did 24 hours ago. The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman is not just a shame for film lovers, it’s a disaster.

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