When Bob Hoskins retired from acting two years ago after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the world lost a damn fine actor. When news broke that he passed away yesterday morning from pneumonia, we lost a damn fine man. Hoskins was a steady bruiser, often playing characters of thick head and heavy fist. But there was far more to him than just physical threat. Occasionally, in films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Hoskins deceived us by capitalizing on his tough guy persona, only to pleasantly evolve into a character of true sympathy.
According to CNN, Hoskins appeared in at least one film or television production from his first film, in 1972, to the year of his retirement. That’s astonishing. And while I certainly haven’t seen them all, below are a handful of my favorite Hoskins performances. As always, please feel free to share your favorite Hoskins roles as well. If anything, I’m hoping we can discover some of Hoskins’ work together.
The Long Good Friday (1980)
If you want to grasp the sheer command of Hoskins’ presence, look no further than his bookended scenes in The Long Good Friday. The introduction of Harold Shand is one of the best character introductions in film history. Francis Monkman’s impossibly catchy music blares away as the menacing, intimidating Harold struts through the airport. Once you catch sight of him, you know he’s a force to be reckoned with. The final scene of the film is even more accomplished, as it is nothing more than a few extended shots of Hoskins’ anguished, tortured, accepting face. Both scenes are fascinating displays of emotional expression, and they are only two moments from a film filled with several powerful sequences. Seriously, watch The Long Good Friday. Its influence (on filmmakers as varied as Michael Mann, Jonathan Glazer and Tony Gilroy, to name a few) is unquestionable.
Hoskins’ role in Terry Gilliam’s colossal mindfuck of a film, Brazil, while brief, is one I’m endlessly drawn to. Spoor is a conniving little bastard who repairs people’s homes for Central Services. And in a film full of hilariously off-kilter scenes, few are as winning as Hoskins and Derrick O’Connor attempting to destroy Jonathan Pryce’s home by disguising themselves as air conditioning repairmen. Pryce asks for documentation that proves the need for the repair, O’Connor begins to convulse, Hoskins hits O’Connor in the head with a wrench, then blames Pryce for making him hit O’Connor. Sure, this doesn’t sound nearly as amusing in print as it is on screen, but Brazil, and Hoskins’ work in it, needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
If you spent any of your formative years in America in the late ‘80s-early ‘90s, then Eddie Valiant was undoubtedly part of your life. As an irritable, alcoholic private eye who reluctantly takes a job investigating the adulterous affairs of Jessica Rabbit, Hoskins brought a much needed maturity to a genre that is consistently lacking it. Eddie Valiant is a lost man, hazed by drink and enraged by the murder of his brother. But his slow evolution from toon-hating barfly to gleefully dancing buffoon is some of the finest acting Hoskins has ever done. Genuinely, Eddie Valiant represents many of Hoskins’ best traits as an actor: foreboding, angry, sarcastic and sly, Eddie had it all, and Hoskins realized it beautifully.
There are many pleasing, controversial, and visually stimulating images within Oliver Stone’s Richard Nixon epic. But the only image that can be labeled as all of those things is the shocking sight of Bob Hoskins as J. Edgar Hoover. There he is, sitting poolside, eating fruit out of the mouth of his pool boy. What a risk it was for Hoover to be portrayed as such an out-and-out queen. Once you see it, you can’t forget it. And I can’t think of another actor who could pull it off so convincingly.
Felicia’s Journey (1999)
At the center of Atom Egoyan’s little seen but no less remarkable, Felicia’s Journey, is an unassuming man named Hilditch. Hilditch works as a chef for a large factory, and at night, he returns to his large house, alone. One day, he runs into Felicia (Elaine Cassidy), who is desperately trying to find the young man she once loved. Hilditch elects to help Felicia in her quest, and all seems right in the world. But as the film progresses, a subtle role reversal takes hold, and Hilditch slowly reveals himself to be a complicated man, dangerous even. I won’t ruin where Felicia’s Journey goes, but as Hilditch, we were privy to another side of Hoskins. The slow brooding, calculating Hoskins whose threat was initially internal, yet eager to escape.
The Best of the Best
Mona Lisa (1986)
Hoskins received an Oscar nomination for playing the fiery and pissed off George in Neil Jordan’s masterful Mona Lisa. The plot of the film is now familiar – ex mobster recently released from prison demands monetary satisfaction from his former boss – but the film’s execution is far from conventional. Once released, George’s old boss, Mortwell (Michael Caine, also perfect) gives George a new, easy job: he is to drive around high class prostitute Simone (Cathy Tyson) and make sure no one messes with her. Needless to say, Simone’s discrete business practices don’t mesh well with George’s streetwise mentality. Initially, the two detest one another, before slowly developing a playful relationship based on mutual respect.
Mona Lisa wasn’t Bob Hoskins’ big breakout (that was The Long Good Friday) but it did show a new side of his now-infamous on-screen personality. Through Mona Lisa, Bob Hoskins became Bob Hoskins. A stout, intimidating, firecracker of a man no one in their right mind would mess with. But there was something else. A humility, a vulnerability; there was something about George that let us know that the man playing him was more than just a bruiser. He had fists that could hurt, a smile that could kill, and eyes that could pierce. He was Bob Hoskins, damnit, and no one dared question otherwise.
Pennies from Heaven (1978)
Pink Floyd The Wall (1982)
The Cotton Club (1984)
Mussolini and I (1985)
A Prayer for the Dying (1987)
Passed Away (1992)
Super Mario Bros. (1993)
Spice World (1997)
Enemy at the Gates (2001)
Vanity Fair (2004)
Beyond the Sea (2004)
Mrs Henderson Presents (2005)
Paris, je t’aime (2006)
Made in Dagenham (2010)
Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)