I would like to first give a shout-out to my friend Jordan of the one and only Epileptic Moondancer for providing me the perfect platform from which I can profess my infatuation with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and his role in Jan de Bont’s exhilarating, special effects-driven Twister. I have been looking for another avenue to venture down when it comes to talking about his simply charming performance in that film, one of the very first few I got to see in theaters. I have Jordan to thank for that.
Born: July 23, 1967
Character: Dustin ‘Dusty’ Davis
Twister operates under the assumption the viewers are, if not nearly as, then equally infatuated with extreme weather as its central protagonists. It bounces around from one corn belt locale to another in the height of one of the most active tornadic seasons in American history in the summer of 1996. Conveniently frequent encounters with this uniquely violent weather phenomenon ensure Twister rarely has down time. But if there were ever a person, a character who could compete for our attention, by virtue of their own charisma, with the ethereal beauty of cylindrical clouds connecting sky to earth, it would be Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Dusty.
Garbed in loose-fitting clothes, tattered and torn by his own enthusiasm for storm chasing, Dusty is Jo’s team’s identifiable loose cannon. He sports a long and ragged crop of dirty blonde hair kept mostly under control by his hat-hood combination, road-weary eyes hiding behind a pair of aviators (presumably this is the best kind of eye protection when driving down roads presided over by ominous castles built out of accumulating wall clouds). If Bill Paxton’s Bill Harding successfully sucked a lot of the fun out of the chase — and you can bet he did with that temper of his — Dusty was the anti-vaccuum, essentially vomiting gusto for the next opportunity to seek out what Tornado Alley has to offer.
Twister isn’t known for its character development and yet the film is rich with characterization. Bill’s a hothead who has been branded as ‘the craziest son of a bitch in the game,’ while Helen Hunt’s Jo is a stubborn woman whose toughness has been forged out of the tragic weather-related loss of her father at an early age; there’s Beltzer and Rabbit — unremarkable in their own rights but highly energetic contributors to a young team who are gung-ho on making a technical break-through when it comes to predicting and rescuing people from this extreme weather. Similar to his on-screen colleagues Dusty doesn’t undergo change so much as he endures one of the craziest seasons of storm chasing of his career. It’s his pairing with Bill’s new fiancée Melissa (Jami Gertz) that tends to bring out his wilder side, where we get to zero in on this peculiar extension of this team.
Dusty’s all too eager to introduce the sex therapist to the world of meteorology and storm chasing, providing a handful of scenes in which his enthusiasm far exceeds any slight burgeoning interest Melissa musters for her would-be husband’s former career. “This is the fun part, sweetheart,” Dusty tells her as Bill and Jo go gallivanting off in the red truck towards a purported F-3 tornado, the third iteration of the Dorothy weather tracking instrument in tow. An eye roll from Jami Gertz is the actress’ way of defending against a smile from breaking out on her face. She knows as well as anyone Hoffman is intensely infectious in this movie.
Combined with his pseudo-hippie converted school bus — affectionately nicknamed the Barn Burner, complete with loudspeakers and an atrocious paint job — Dusty is arguably Twister‘s soul and spirit. (He’s the guy I most closely associate with the adrenaline of Van Halen’s ‘Humans Being,’ anyway.) The visual effects are clearly the centerpiece of de Bont’s film, with each tornado ramping up the action spectacle and becoming a character unto itself based upon the ease with which it converts towns into splinters, bridges into dust, corn fields into particles of lovely yellow shit. Not to mention the psychological impacts it has upon the chase team(s): “I’m sorry Jo, I don’t even know if you want to hear this but the NSSL is predicting an F-5.”
But we ought to move beyond the obviousness of Twister‘s visuals. There’s no denying that without Hoffman’s eccentric work here, Twister would be all the worse off for it. It’s one character in a multitude that proves the actor’s dedication to the work assigned to him. It’s something lovers of film and lovers of this film specifically shouldn’t take for granted. The energy is so very specific, yet unfortunately comes at quite an expensive price.
Running Time: 113 mins.
Quoted: “Repo Man spends his life getting into intense situations, Beltzer!”
“Meg’s gravy is famous. It’s practically a food group.”
“He strolls up to the twister, and he says, ‘Have a drink.’ And he chucks the bottle into the twister, and it never hits the ground.”
“He’s gonna rue the day he came up against The Extreme, baby. Bill, I’m talkin’ imminent rueage.”
“Fashionably late again, eh Jonas? Fashionably late. Gimme a kiss baby!”
All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.
Photo credits: http://www.emgn.com