Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Terrence Malick's Next Film With Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara & Michael Fassbender Reportedly Gets Titled Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Gets Bloody And Bruised In First Trailer For Boxing Drama 'Southpaw' New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books New Infographic Lays Out Canonical 'Star Wars' Timeline With Films, TV And Books First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' First Official Image: Jesse Eisenberg As Lex Luthor In 'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Watch: First Trailer For Arnold Schwarzenegger's Zombie Pic 'Maggie' With Abigail Breslin Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join Idris Elba Replaces Jamie Foxx In Harmony Korine's 'The Trap,' Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, James Franco Also Join 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors 10 Terrible Films Starring Great Actors Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' Watch: Tom Hanks Acts Out His Filmography In 7-Minutes On 'The Late Late Show' Watch: Trailer For 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' Unrated Blu-Ray Edition, Will Also Feature An Alternate Ending Watch: Trailer For 'Fifty Shades Of Grey' Unrated Blu-Ray Edition, Will Also Feature An Alternate Ending New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' New Directors/New Films Review: Jia Zhang-ke Produced 'K' Is A New Take On Franz Kafka's 'The Castle' Viggo Mortensen Reveals He Turned Down Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight,' Auditioned For 'Reservoir Dogs' Viggo Mortensen Reveals He Turned Down Quentin Tarantino's 'The Hateful Eight,' Auditioned For 'Reservoir Dogs' Watch: First Teaser Trailer For 'Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation' With Tom Cruise Arrives, If You Choose To Accept It Watch: First Teaser Trailer For 'Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation' With Tom Cruise Arrives, If You Choose To Accept It Jonathan Nolan Says His Original Ending To 'Interstellar' Was “Much More Straightforward” Jonathan Nolan Says His Original Ending To 'Interstellar' Was “Much More Straightforward” The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 50 Best Films Of The Decade So Far The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen The 25 Best Films Of 2015 We've Already Seen Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 Best Of 2014: The 15 Best Movie Soundtracks Of 2014 The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 25 Best Horror Films Of The 21st Century So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

5 Of Dustin Hoffman's Most Underrated Performances

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist August 9, 2012 at 10:01AM

There’s a certain generation of male stars who emerged in the 1960s and 1970s who signify that golden age of American cinema, starring in some of the most acclaimed films of that era while also maintaining long careers as box office draws that continue to this day. Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty -- a line-up of actors that, for the most part, puts today’s A-listers to shame. And the unlikeliest of them all is Dustin Hoffman.
13

American Buffalo
"American Buffalo" (1996)
In the short history of the conversion of David Mamet's plays to films, "American Buffalo" (one of the writer's earliest works, produced shortly after "Sexual Perversity In Chicago") doesn't exactly sit at the top of the tree with "Glengarry Glen Ross." Revolving around junk-shop owner Donny (Dennis Franz), aspiring thief Teach (Hoffman) and a young kid (Sean Nelson) who conspire to rob a rare coin collection, it's a low-key, stagy picture that doesn't manage to translate to film nearly as well as James Foley's take on 'Glengarry' did. But Hoffman as Teach (a part played by Al Pacino in a 1983 Broadway version, and originally intended for him in the film) is absolutely terrific. Like a version of Ratso Rizzo from "Midnight Cowboy" had he survived, Teach is a sleazy scavenger of society, so full of nervous energy he feels ready to burst. Given that he'd not had much experience with Mamet's rat-a-tat dialog before (they'd reunite the next year for "Wag The Dog," which won the actor an Oscar nomination), Hoffman takes to it like a fish to water, displaying tremendous chemistry with Franz (even if third wheel Nelson can't match them). You come away from the film wishing you'd seen Hoffman do it on stage too, but you're still glad you saw him do it at all.

Moonlight Mile
"Moonlight Mile" (2002)
Almost totally unseen at the time, and swiftly forgotten since, "Moonlight Mile" isn't just somewhat underrated, but also features one of Hoffman's very best latter-day performances. Based on writer-director Brad Silberling's own experiences (his girlfriend, sitcom actress Rebecca Schaeffer, was murdered by an obsessive fan in 1989), the film is set in 1973, and follows Joe (Jake Gyllenhaal), who's living with the parents of his late fiancee (Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon), who was killed in a robbery of a restaurant, and who he actually had broken up with three days before she was killed. It's a modest, and sometimes overly sentimental film, hobbled a little by a wall-to-wall Cameron Crowe-style soundtrack, but it's also unexpectedly honest, grown up and emotionally complex for much of the running time, and the performances across the board are excellent. Not least Hoffman, a man desperately trying to keep as busy as possible, especially with his new real estate dream, in order to avoid having to deal with the aftermath of his daughter's death. It's a desperately sad performance, but one, like the film, that isn't afraid to bring warmth and humor in as well, and more than anything else in the last couple of decades, it feels like Hoffman is playing a real, living, breathing person. Not quite a hidden gem, but certainly a jewel among the actor's recent performances.

I Heart Huckabees
“I Heart Huckabees” (2004)
Nearly eight years on, and with David O. Russell now an Oscar nominee, it's still hard to believe that "I Heart Huckabees" ever got made. A bizarre, Godard-ian comedy taking in both high-minded philosophical ideas and low-brow laughs, it's one of the boldest and strangest films ever to get made by a studio subsidiary, and even if it only works some of the time, it's still something of a wonder. Not least because of its performances: from Jude Law's unraveling yuppie to Mark Wahlberg's adrift fireman, they're all terrific, and Hoffman is right there in the midst of it all. As one-half of a sort of cosmic Nick & Norah partnership with wife Lily Tomlin, the two playing "existential detectives" Bernard and Vivian Jaffe, Hoffman's having the most fun he's had in years. Decked out in a Beatles-style bowl cut, and taking immense glee both in the secrets of existence, and in his wife, it's a joyful, very funny performance (that belies the tempestuous nature of some of the filming), but also a soulful, almost paternal one. Lord knows if Hoffman would ever work with Russell again, but we certainly hope they consider it.

Honorable Mentions: A couple of performances that we remember being strong, but hadn’t seen recently enough to consider writing about in full are “Ishtar” and “Hero.” The former’s much-maligned as one of the biggest disasters in history, but that’s rather unfair; it’s scrappy, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in the Hope & Crosby-style interplay between Hoffman and Warren Beatty, as a pair of Simon & Garfunkel-esque songwriters caught up in Middle East intrigue.

As for “Hero,” Stephen Frears’ comic morality play, it’s another film that doesn’t quite work; too tonally inconsistent and uneven, with Frears too busy emulating Frank Capra to make the film work on its own terms. But Hoffman is, again, excellent, as a no-good thief who saves people from a plane crash, only to see a homeless drifter (Andy Garcia) take the credit. If memory serves, his scene with his wife, played by Joan Cusack, was a particular highlight. Any unsung Hoffman performances you’re fans of that we didn't mention? Let us know in the comments section below.

This article is related to: The Essentials, Features, Dustin Hoffman, On This Day In Movie History, Best Of


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome

E-Mail Updates