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News of Sydney Pollack’s death won’t surprise those who knew that the director-actor, 73, was suffering from cancer for many months—an open secret in Hollywood. And still, like any loss, it hurts. As the obits pour in, note their emphasis on Pollack’s ability to shape star material out of hot properties; unlike most of his generation, he was proud to be a studio player. The films he directed have a high-burnished sheen, confident and unfussy. The best of them isn’t Tootsie, but 1985’s Out of Africa, unfairly maligned as soggy but remarkably durable as high romanticism, with a wonderful Meryl Streep performance. (It also features what may be John Barry’s most lovely score, for which he won an Oscar. Pollack won too.)

The Sydney Pollack I will always remember and love, though, is the one that crackled onscreen: a slightly cranky, no-nonsense Jewish presence reliable for great put-downs. He was fierce as Michael Clayton’s corrupt boss (right), insidiously evil in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (above) and a confused adulterer in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives. Pollack also had pungent turns on The Sopranos and Entourage. In the moment, I can’t think of another performer who will be able to step into his shoes.

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