Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Top 10 Dustin Hoffman Anti-heroes

When I think of an anti-hero, I first think of Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or anyone in The Expendables. Some actors play these roles so well that eventually they're defined by them. Personally, I find it hard to imagine that Eastwood isn't "The Man With No Name" in real life. Many actors will play one of these parts for variety now and then but it's not how we remember them. I watched a few Dustin Hoffman movies recently, and while I knew he's played many of these characters, it occurred to me that I don't think of him as an "anti hero" type, although he is convincing every time he does it and it used to be what he was known for. He's since, had a long career playing a wide range of roles. The fact that he's convincing in "Rain Man." or "The Graduate" doesn't take anything away from these parts. Given such diversity, one thing we can't accuse Hoffman of is "playing himself" every time. So here are my ten favorite anti hero parts from Hoffman. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

10)Hero:  Bernie LaPlante

Bernie LaPlante is a small time thief soon to be looking at prison time. Despised by his wife and more distant than he'd like from his son. He catches a break, he thinks, when a plane crashes right in front of him. Thinking he'll be able to loot it, he ends up saving passengers, including Gayle Gayley, (Geena Davis) a prominent TV reporter, who is eager to thank the "hero" but didn't get a good look at him. She offers a reward, which is quickly claimed by homeless vet, John Bubber (Andy Garcia) while LaPlante is incarcerated. LaPlante simmers while locked up, and Gayley grooms Bubber into the "hero" the media would like to see. Eventually, matters are settled and they confront whether or not the truth is more important than the figure himself. A lighthearted movie really, and only a surface look at the issues of manufactured heroism and celebrity that the media provides to order.

9)Marathon Man Babe

Thomas Levy, or Babe, is a history student and runner. His brother, Doc, (Roy Scheider) is a secret agent acting like a business man. Doc visits Babe in New York, as cover for his real purpose, secretly tracking down an infamous Nazi's brother who's retrieving stolen diamonds. When the Nazi's brother is killed in an accident, complications ensue as the war criminal himself, Dr. Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier) heads to New York to retrieve them personally. Babe soon realizes that although it has nothing to do with him, he's caught in the middle of this game, which culminates in Babe, a truly unlikely hope, facing Szell, one of the most memorable and ruthless screen villains of all time (and Babe endures one of the most memorable interrogation scenes out there!)

8)American Buffalo Teach

Don (Dennis Franz) owns a pawn shop and feels robbed when he realizes he sold a Buffalo nickel for much less than it's value. He discusses this with his assistant, Bobby (Sean Nelson) the two plotting to get it back and sell it for a higher price. The plan is disrupted by the shady Teach, who lacks Don's conscience. He plays his own angle, cutting Bobby out by playing on Don's reluctance to corrupt the boy. Primarily a riveting conversation movie about motive and the way we can justify just about anything using lofty sounding goals. Ultimately Don and Teach aren't capable of much more than talk, but Teach's true nature is viciously exposed by Bobby's desperation.

7)Wag the Dog Stanlet Motss

Stanley Motss is a Hollywood producer enlisted by Conrad Brean (Robert DeNiro) a DC spin doctor, to provide a distraction for the president who is on the verge of a major sex scandal. Motss' job is to make a "war" which will only exist in the media in oder to keep the American public too occupied to care about the scandal. Using Hollywood technology, he easily comes up with war footage, war heroes to rally behind, and songs to sing, ensuring that America is united in their support. The job is very effective and the scandal is quickly forgotten. Unfortunately for Motss, that does leave a few ends to clean up. "Wag the Dog" is a chilling movie, presenting a world where the public's opinions can be shaped easily and according to plan, by a few people with the influence and desire to do so.

6)Death of a Salesman Willy Loman

A truly great performancee with Hoffman as failed salesman Willy Loman. The story, of course, is an essential piece of disenchanted Americana, and Hoffman is perfect for the role. Loman doesn't have it anymore and has little to show for the time he's spent hawking his wares, except for troubled relationships with his sons and his wife. He's about to lose his job, which was more important to him than he realized. Loman is a real salesman, and he knows his life is broken, and has little idea how to fix it, finding himself in a hole he can't sell his way out of. Willy confronts his failures the only way he knows how, but he's more lost than he realizes. His humanity with all it's contradictions makes this a tragedy of the highest order, and it succeeds if Linda Loman's thought is fulfilled "Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid."

5)Papillon Louis Dega

Louis Dega is an imprisoned  counterfeiter rumored to have a lot of money hidden. He's befriended by Papillon (Steve McQueen) a fellow prisoner, who decides to protect him and ends up saving his life a few times. Shipped to a prison island where escape attempts can lead to execution, Papillon still can't get the idea out of his mind. Degas is reluctant but goes along with Papillon's plans. They escape, although Degas breaks his ankle in the process and Papillon ends up betrayed and imprisoned again. Over five years later, Papillon reconnects with Degas on Devil's Island. He still plans to escape, although it appears impossible. He convinces Degas to come with him, but he reconsiders at the last minute, settling for wishing his friend well. Papillon is a great look at a strong and enduring friendship tested by the worst conditions possible.

4)Straight Time Max Dembo

Max Dembo is a professional thief just released on parole. Initially he makes an attempt to go straight, but an old friend Willy (Gary Busey) shoots up in his room leaving some evidence behind, which Dembo's parole officer (M. Emmett Walsh) uses to throw Dembo back in jail for a drug test. Dembo is clean, but angry at the indignity. He assaults his parole officer and handcuffs him with his pants down on the side of a highway, forcing himself to live on the run. Dembo falls in love with a girl named Jenny (Theresa Russell) and attempts to make things work while he plans a robbery, involving Willy and his old friend Jerry (Harry Dean Stanton) The job goes bad and Dembo has to flee, taking Jenny with him, although he loves her enough to consider the consequences of where he's headed. Straight Time isn't so much a critique of the system as it is a look into the mind of a career criminal.

3)Straw Dogs David Sumner

Mathematician David Sumner takes his wife Amy (Susan George) to a quiet English village where she grew up, planning to focus on his work away from the tension (Vietnam era) in America. They're soon spotted by Amy's old friends including an ex boyfriend Charley (Del Henney,) who David hires along with his group of friends to work on their house. David neglects his wife, treating her as a nuisance for keeping him from his work. He treats the workers condescendingly, having no common ground with them. It soon becomes clear that they dislike David and they begin an assault, killing a cat and leaving in their closet, and inviting David out hunting in order to rape his wife who is alone at home. The situation escalates until David feels he has to take a stand which he does finally without half measures.

2)Lenny Lenny Bruce

Lenny, is a look at the life of influential 60's comic, Lenny Bruce. Part "interview" with Lenny's associates, primarily wife Honey (Valerie Perrine) and agent Artie Silver (Stanley Beck) and part flashback. We trace his climb from mediocre stand up, to influential figure constantly arrested for and fighting obscenity charges. We also see the aspects of his personal life including the rise and fall of his marriage, his, and Honey's experience with drug addictions and the addition of a daughter to their lifestyle.  This isn't a film that paints a rosy picture, but neither does it diminish Lenny Bruce's contributions. It's interesting to see Dustin Hoffman become a character, who really existed. Although, much of Bruce's "obscenity" would be considered tame by current standards, without him who knows if that would be the case, the first amendment providing protection now that unfortunately for Lenny, took some time to sink in. The swearing was never the point.

1) Midnight Cowboy: Ratso Rizzo

Joe Buck (Jon Voight) moves to New York City from Texas, planning to make a living as a stud. Joe is very naive however, and quickly becomes desperate. He ends up befriending Ratso Rizzo, a sleazy grifter with some serious health problems. Rizzo starts "managing" Buck, for a percentage of profits. We see that Buck is much more damaged than he appears, repressing abusive memories. We see Ratso and Buck get very close, partners in the truest sense of the word, but things take another downturn when Ratso's health starts getting worse, and Joe resorts to violent means to make some money quickly, hoping to get them both to Florida, thinking this will give Ratso a chance. Midnight Cowboy is a powerful and unflinching movie, showing to friends at the the bottom of a hopeless situation in a tough and unmerciful city struggling to find their way out of it.


Widow_Lady302 said...

Brilliant list for a brilliant actor. I've seen most of those movies and agree with what you say. Hoffman is one of those actors you tend not to realize you are a big fan of, because he blends into the roles like a chameleon and while you always remember his performance-at least for me- you think of the character he plays and not always him. He is a true acting treasure, and I don't say that about many people at all.

INDBrent said...

Thanks Lisa! He is a truly fine actor! I also enjoy that you see him (which we've discussed) in parts you wouldn't expect. He seems to enjoy mixing it up!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Lisa, Hoffman is so good you tend to forget how many great films he's made.
I like Papillon because it's an adaptation of one of my favourite books and Midnight Cowboy is certainly deserving of being your number one.
It's funny I never thought of Hoffman as an anti-hero until I read this post...good job Brent.

INDBrent said...

Thanks Paul! I just kind of realized the Hoffman oversight myself, having rewatched a few of these recently. It's a pretty remarkable thing!

Unknown said...

I liked your picks of WAG THE DOG and STRAIGHT TIME. WAG never seems to be remembered any more but anticipated a lot of what is going in politics now with the blurring of reality and manufactured hype.

Another fave role of Hoffman's is in CONFIDENCE where he played a dangerous crime boss, which is not an anti-hero role but one that he disappears into quite nicely to play a creepy crook.

INDBrent said...

Thanks J.D.,

I agree that he was great in Confidence and would certainly have included it except that I wanted to focus on "main player" parts. He has soo many fantastic supporting roles. I also wish that his role as Conscience/God in "The Messenger" could've fit in here, but that would be stretching it a bit!

Anonymous said...

Dustin Hoffman is my favorite actor of all time, given his body of work. I would dare say that in any of his roles he is the anti-hero. He never fits the stereotype of the typical movie star and he always seems to be against the odds. Love this article, Brent!

INDBrent said...

Thanks Sweepy! I would agree that most of his roles could fit in the antihero camp, including "The Graduate" and even "Rain Man" He definitely favors the non conventional lead roles and as you point out does well against the odds. So glad you enjoyed the post!

TirzahLaughs said...

I always loved 'Wag The Dog'. Dustin is one of those guys who even when he plays a character you should hate, you still the humanity in the character.

INDBrent said...

Hi Tirzah! Yeah Wag the Dog, is great. Some black homor there. Agree that Hoffman brings out the humanity, moreso than just about any actor I can think of.