Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts ooze charm as two Texas wheeler-dealers in Charlie Wilson's War; they know that politics is a game of seduction and gleefully show how it's played. Then Hoffman, as a midlevel cia operative aptly named Gust, storms in to demonstrate how other people get their way. He bullies, breaks things and lasers an oversize intelligence equal to his rage.
Gust is the final jewel in Hoffman's 2007 triple crown. His other roles as failing guys with father issues in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead and The Savages were terrific too. The first proved his ability to live inside a schemer not nearly as smart or lucky as he thinks he is; the second, his talent for lending the requisite charm to an essentially passive soul who can barely cope with mediocrity, let alone a family crisis. Gust is a stranger to pent-up anxiety. The character's anger is as much a test of his opponents, a probing for their weak spots, as it is undisciplined venting. And because Charlie Wilson is a comedy with reams of expository dialogue, it calls on one of Hoffman's undersung gifts: line-reading. He not only gets the information out but makes it seem like the high-speed conversation of one very smart fellow.
After an Oscar for Capote and more than a dozen years of lending his wily craft to every manner of loser, pusher and dandy, Hoffman should not be able to surprise us with his excellence and daring. Yet he does. His next role is closer to home. This sometime theater director plays one in Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York. He could probably play it in his sleep. But he won't.
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