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 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.