Thursday, 27 May 2010

Best Actor 1958: Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones

Sidney Poitier received his first Oscar nomination for playing Noah Cullen a black convict who is trying to escape prison in The Defiant Ones.

Poitier plays the black convict very well. Poitier has his usually natural charisma, although he clearly reduces it here a bit to be believable as the convict. He does have a natural "cool" to him no matter what that works quite well. He has it when he not saying anything at all, and he does it with just a look. Poitier many times uses that as Cullen's way of basically fighting back against Joker (Tony Curtis). This mights have not worked but Poitier does it so Cullen wins even if Joker says a lot more. Poitier natural presence works incredibly well throughout the film, and Poitier though never only uses just that and forgets to act.

Poitier makes a strong portrait of an angry man who is basically just tired of being looked down and upon and being mistreated. Poitier never makes him just only angry but rather a complicated man, who shows exactly why he is angry. Poitier is always strong particularly when he tells Joker not to call him boy or anything else derogatory.  His scenes where he explains his anger are very well done. Such as when he complains about his wife always telling to be nice, or tells about his religious father. Also when he speaks about how he ended up in jail. He creates reason for his character and sympathy through his explanations, but he never panders for it and earns it naturally.

Everything Poitier does in this film is well done. The only problem I might have is that Cullen really does not undergo any changes. He is basically the same man throughout the film, and just goes back to his singing at the end. All the development belongs to Curtis' character. But this is not Poitier's fault his character not changing is merely in the script. Poitier though anyways pulls a lot out his character, and probably created a much deeper character than was in the script due to his performance. Both he and Curtis succeed with their separate characters, and they both work together well. Both give very good performances, and I believe Poitier could have given an even greater performance if the script did not prevent it.


dinasztie said...

Great review, I agree with everything. I felt that in the end the movie was all about Curtis and Poitier was not given enough to do. Poitier was my pick, but I changed my mind a while ago and Niven is my pick right now.

Anonymous said...

I have to ask you about Cara Williams's performance?

I thought she was fine, but way, way too short.

Louis Morgan said...

Dinasztie: I agree Poitier was reduced a little too much at the end.

Sage Slowdive: I agree she was fine. I wish she had gotten more screentime. My only problem with the performance itself was when she said Poitier would not leave the swamp alive. She almost could have laughed menacingly afterward and it would have gone along with the way she said it.

joe burns said...

My guess is he'll be fourth.