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I had heard about “Jack Goes Boating” when it came out, the description was appealing enough to generate an interest, but it somehow fell off the radar over time. Sadly, with Hoffman’s death, it came to my attention again, and I finally got around to seeing it. It feels like a clever choice for a directorial debut. Hoffman has worked a lot in theatre, and this story, adapted from a stage play, mostly retains the confined space of the stage. It is easy to imagine how it plays out within two hours in a theatre. The motives of relationships under duress, the recurring topic of Hoffman’s character working on his cooking and swimming skills.

The atmosphere of melancholy that seems to be such an important motive in Hoffman’s previous acting choices comes through with a vengeance, he plays a limo driver who mostly is passive and mono-syllabic, dreaming though his existence with the help of a walkman (!) and a huge set of earphones over his blonde rastas. There is the feeling of him being a somehow sad side character to other people’s lives, with those other people mostly being extremely vocal about their opinions and suggestions. On the other hand he is the only one with true dedication to the things he is doing. Even though you sometimes feel you should pity him, most of the time that urge is smothered by the realisation that he stands somewhat rock solid above all those emotions and opinions floating around.

The story builds up as you would expect from a play, with slow escalation towards a devastating finale, a collapse of many pretensions and dreams, a hilarious and creepy rendition of “By the Rivers of Babylon” and a lot of people shouting their disillusionment at each other, even though most of them are mostly disillusioned and disappointed with themselves.

This is not a masterpiece of movie making, but it is a very solid screen version of a stage play that benefits from an excellent small cast, with Amy Ryan, John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega playing alongside Hoffman. Well worth watching, even though it is less than a happy treat.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/jack_goes_boating/

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