Charlie Kaufman

Sony Pictures Classics

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Hope Davis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Emily Watson, Michelle Williams

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK: USA 2008, 35mm, color, English, R, 124 min


SHOWTIMES THRU 1/08: 7:00p | 9:30p

NEW TIMES 1/09-15: 4:45p | 7:30p

NOMINATED: 2008 Cannes Film Festival: Golden Palm

Screenwriter Kaufman’s first venture as a director is audacious, ambitious, amazing. It’s also intricate, self-referencing, and all-encompassing. austinchronicle

In Schenectady, New York, it is October – "a melancholy month, and because of that quite beautiful" as a poet is heard saying on the radio, perfectly summarising the mood of the film to follow. If it is the beginning of fall, then these are also the autumn years of Caden Cotard (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who finds himself left alone at home with a series of physical and neurological ailments while his wife Adele Lack (Catherine Keener), a painter of miniature portraits, is off touring Berlin with their four-year-old daughter Olive (Sadie Goldstein).

Too miserable, sick and guilt-ridden even to consummate his affair with Hazel (Samantha Morton), the adoring box office employee at the theatre where his latest production, a modernised Death Of A Salesman, has just opened, Caden feels abandoned, lost and impotent – but then an unexpected grant arrives, offering the director an opportunity, for the first time in his career, to develop his own ideas. Moving his entire company to a giant warehouse space in New York City, Caden decides to go with what he knows, and so embarks on an ambitious project to turn his own life, and all his anxieties about loss and death, into one vast all-encompassing play.

Phillip Seymour Hoffmann is riveting as Caden, bringing to the surface all this narcissistic hypochondriac's doubts, confusion, yearning and despair – and the ensemble in his orbit proves as committed and capable as Caden's own theatre company. Kaufman can certainly direct, too, seamlessly enmeshing reality, fantasy and performance so that the viewer easily becomes as lost as Caden himself. With the clock ticking on Kaufman as much as on the rest of us, it is impossible to know what he might do next, but to date this is without question his finest and most important work, and one that already has the feel of a classic (or at least an epitaph) about it.