Film stars have strange lives. But they have even stranger deaths. If their passing is unexpected, and they’re still successful, there’s a good chance they have a movie on the go, or in post-production, or awaiting a distribution deal, which leaves the film-makers grieving the loss of a colleague and fearing the loss of their livelihood.
When Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose on 2 February this year, he had a week left of shooting The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, the first part of which will be released this November, with Hoffman’s unfilmed lines reallocated to other characters. A promising TV series, Happyish, the pilot of which had already been shot, has reportedly been canned.
Before that though, his last two completed films will be released. The first of these is the black comedy God’s Pocket, out on 8 August.
Directed by Mad Men’s John Slattery, Hoffman stars as Mickey Scarpato, a downtrodden schmuck in a shit-kicking town in upstate New York, with a smokin’ hot wife (Christina Hendricks), and a demonic stepson (Caleb Landry Jones) — the latter of whom gets bumped off in a construction “accident” leaving Mickey to fund the funeral, any way he can.
It’s funny in a few places, silly in a few more, and as a passing caper it’s not bad; as a final film for one of the world’s greatest actors, you’d hope for more.
Thankfully, that comes in the form of A Most Wanted Man, out 12 September. It’s the latest film from rock-photographer-turned-director Anton Corbijn (Control), based on the book of the same name by John Le Carré.
In a palette of sinister greenish-greys, it follows the fate of Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a mysterious, half-Russian, half-Chechen young man who appears in Hamburg with unclear motives and a small fortune to his name. His arrival sends the security services into a frenzy of surveillance and in-fighting, as they decide whether to treat Issa as a major player or a useful pawn.
Hoffman plays Gunther Bachmann, a downtrodden spook with an alcohol dependency who wants to use Issa to catch a big fish — Dr Faisal Abdullah, a seemingly genial Muslim academic (Homayoun Ershadi) — in order to catch an even bigger fish: whoever Dr Abdullah is secretly funding with misplaced charity donations.
It’s hard not to savour what will so tragically be one of the last times we’ll see Hoffman's extraordinary face anew — those small, pin-sharp blue eyes; that strangely boyish yellow hair; those fat orange eyebrows, crawling across his face like the caterpillars of some exotic moth.
It goes without saying that he is sensational in this brooding, simmering thriller that will have you holding your breath to the very last frame. And speaking of endings, the finale of A Most Wanted Man, when it comes, is sudden, surprising, unsettling and sad. And that, by unhappy accident, is the most fitting send-off Hoffman could have.