The Back Room

With respect to Socrates, my unexamined life is not worth living. The front room is the face we show everyone but we hide our true self in the back room.

The ghosts of Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman

The ghosts of Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman hang around.  I just saw A Most Wanted Man starring Hoffman and the episode from Homicide: Life on the Street featuring Williams.  Two more excellent examples of acting.

Hoffman has carried films before (Capote, Love Liza, Owning Mahowny), and in A Most Wanted Man he does it one last time, allowing the audience to drink in with privilege everything he has to give.  From the John Le Carré novel, it was Le Carré himself who felt Hoffman was the only American actor able to play his English spy, George Smiley.  Although he never got the chance, Hoffman displays talents virtuosic with his measured and nuanced performance as a German spy.  It is a quiet film and more character study than action movie. The audience sits rapt, mesmerized by every move Hoffman’s character makes.  Hoffman took up room onscreen.  His absence leaves a yawning chasm.

Williams has been so funny in so much it’s easy to dismiss him as a comedian.  To do so, however, would be a grave injustice as his dramatic work stands up alongside others.  Insomnia, Dead Poets Society, One Hour Photo, The Fisher King.  And you can add his role as a grief-stricken husband and father in an episode of the always outstanding television series Homicide: Life on the Street.  The homicide detectives go through the usual motions of gathering evidence, complaining about the unhelpful victims/witnesses, grousing about their pay while Williams takes us through the process of homicide through the eyes of a family member with the cold, surreal world of autopsies, funeral homes and courthouses so viciously thrust upon him.  Given Williams penchant for ad-libbing and going over the top with great gusto, his performance here is low-key and mundane.  The everyman with a broken heart.


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