Dustin Hoffman's Worst Performance Comes From A Movie About A Serial Killer Who Sniffs Things
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Monday on Cracked Movie Club, we'll discuss Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer which can be streamed on Amazon Prime. The episode releases Monday at 3PM EST.
Until then. A thought.
Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer is SPOILER a story about a murderer. Specifically, it’s a story about a murderer played by the voice of Paddington Bear, who just loves sniffing things. Fish guts, women’s cleavage, you name it — this guy will sniff the mess out of it. Seriously, his entire motivation for murdering women revolves around how when they’re alive, they refuse to sit still long enough for him to distill their body odors into a perfume so powerful it’ll allow him to take over the world. Thus, murder.
But I don’t want to talk about that, I want to talk about Dustin Hoffman. In the movie, Hoffman plays Giuseppe Baldini - an Italian perfumer who briefly apprentices super-sniffer Jean Baptiste and teaches him the ways of perfume creation. Pretty quickly, Jean learns all the man knows about smells and strikes off on his own. Then Giuseppe’s house inexplicably collapses on him in the middle of the night. Yes, this movie is a dead-serious drama.
Now, Dustin Hoffman is an incredible actor. The man’s performances have won him multiple Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and also an Annie Award for his voice work as a, uh, wise Chinese Panda in Kung Fu Panda. He can do it all, is my point. Everything... except an Italian accent, apparently. In Perfume, Hoffman’s faux-aristocratic Italian “accent” sounds like somebody ran over a mildly upset Robert De Niro.
Hoffman spends the majority of his screen time half-heartedly yelling at Jean about perfumes with a distinct Brooklyn accent occasionally seasoned with vague European enunciations (I completely thought he was French until we did the podcast and was assured otherwise) and spiced with occasional Italian words like “basta!” just to sell that he’s definitely fluent in another language. By contrast, Ben Wishaw’s Jean Baptiste is so subdued and moody, conversations between the two are often peppered with silences so long and painful, it’s fair to wonder if they were even in the same room during filming or if maybe their lines were stitched together in post.
It's a shockingly half-assed performance that's at least partially explained by some very specific phrasing in the official film press release. For example, Hoffman ,“who was not previously familiar with the novel” mostly took the role through “a simple agreement between friends” since he was close with the director. It later quotes his co-star who carefully mentions that, "Dustin certainly gave the feeling that you should always approach your work with a certain confident lack of respect so that you can take a break any time it's threatening to get on top of you." In other words, Dustin sure had a lot of fun dicking around on set.
Anyway. The performance is magical. Just like Paddington Bear.
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