Today it was announced that the great British character actor Bob Hoskins would be retiring from his craft. This incomparable artist has been performing on stage, television and screen for over 40 years. This announcement comes on the heels of the unfortunate news that the 69-year-old actor has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. While we are greatly saddened that we will no longer be audience to Hoskins’ tremendous talent, we certainly understand his reasons for making this decision and wish him nothing but the best in his retirement.
To pay homage to this titan of the silver screen, we thought we’d look back on some of our favorite Bob Hoskins performances over the years. They may not all be members of any prestigious AFI list, but they have all found solid purchase in our geeky little hearts.
The Long Good Friday
If you were beholden to the misconception that America has the market cornered on gangster cinema, I would direct your attention to the 1980 British crime opus The Long Good Friday. Hoskins plays established gangster Harold Shand, who is enraged to find his empire under attack just as he’s about to finalize his most profitable venture. If you’ve only ever seen Hoskins in family-friendly fare, you are not prepared for the vicious, ruthless monster that is Harold Shand. The interrogation scene featuring a group of inverted rivals is astounding. Underscoring his violent temper is the mammoth-sized chip on his shoulder; reluctant acceptance of the violence around him. The film also features a very young, quietly frightening Pierce Brosnan.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
This is probably the film for which most people know Mr. Hoskins. In 1988, Robert Zemeckis delivered an instant classic that appears on the surface to be a kids movie, yet Who Framed Roger Rabbit is actually a well-crafted film noir with as much sleaze, sex and murder as one would find on the pages of a pulp magazine. The fact that it’s peppered with cartoon characters is merely a send-up of the supposed squeaky-clean nature of family films. Hoskins’ Eddie Valiant is a washed-up, boozed-out remnant of the hard-boiled days, and he plays the part with such swagger and grit. We may laugh every time a cartoon rabbit plants a big wet kiss on his mug, but there is no denying Hoskins commands every scene in which he appears with the force and intimidating presence of Sam Spade or Mike Hammer.
When Steven Spielberg set out to tell his version of the Peter Pan story, he created an alternate fantasy future that continued one of the most beloved tales of all time. One of the great strengths of Hook is its stellar casting. Robin Williams as a grown-up version of Peter Pan, Julia Roberts as the diminutive beauty Tinkerbell, and Dustin Hoffman as the sinister Captain Hook. Not to be overshadowed, Bob Hoskins turns in what has to be the definitive Mr. Smee performance. The animated Disney version has nothing on the unhinged, boisterous and despicably lovable Hoskins incarnation. His Smee was so beloved that he was asked to reprise the role in the Syfy miniseries Neverland.
In my mind, Jet Li has no finer film than 2005’s Unleashed. In the film, written by Luc Besson, Li plays a lethal martial arts killing machine trained like an animal to attack at his master’s command and then immediately become docile when collared. That master is a vile gangster played with artful decadence by Bob Hoskins. Though his Harold Shand may be the more cinematically memorable gangster, Hoskin’s Bart is an ugly, bile-spewing psychopath that even Joe Pesci would fear to cross. What makes his character so fascinating is the abusive, yet unfortunately vital, paternal relationship he has with Li. It’s a bizarre codependence that manifests as Bart’s only real vulnerability.
Super Mario Bros.
Many of you are probably decrying the validity of this entire list based on this addition, and you are not completely unfounded. However, for those of us who were kids when this ill-advised game-to-movie adaptation hit theaters, this was one of our earliest and most prominent exposures to Hoskins. Hell, many of us were still playing, and adoring, Super Mario Bros. when the film came out. Hoskins took a lackluster script and a two-dimensional character, almost literally, and infused enough charm and flustered genuineness that we couldn’t help but love his Mario Mario. The fact that this actor from Suffolk, England was able to convince us that he was from Brooklyn is a feat in and of itself.
Give us your favorite Bob Hoskins performance(s) below...