Peter Finch posthumously won his Oscar from his second and final Oscar nomination for playing Howard Beale.
Finch is the other best actor nominee from Network and both he and Holden are leads in my book. Both have sections of the film where they are absent, but they both have lead importance.
Peter Finch's performance is essential to the film, since the character of Howard Beale is the best part of the film, and the changes of his character move the film along. It is interesting how Beale moves along through the course of the film and that Finch actually does not stay as the same throughout the film. At first he is just a tired and disappointed News Anchor who was fired do to his low rating. Finch plays him here as a normal man who is merely tired of the world. He still does that in his second broadcast where he continues his way. I like these early scenes because they show Beale as just a man and Finch is perfect at that. His scenes with Holden still show him to be human.
His humanity though seems to vanish when a strange voice talks to him at night. He suddenly has found himself chosen to spread a message to people through television. At this point Beale has gone loco. He no longer really is ever again human, and the much of the rest of the performance are the speeches he makes to the people. Now these speeches are essential to the film and the most memorable scenes in my opinion and they depend completely on Finch to succeed. Finch succeeds full though and puts the right amount of force, power and madness into every speech that he gives. Everyone is made memorable because of the energy Finch puts into them. Whether it is the Mad as Hell, or the You are Real speeches. Finch completely succeeds at making both as clear and powerful as they need to be.
Beale though with his push for the individual is not looked upon well by the corporate heads. One in particular played by Ned Beatty wants him to understand that the individual does not matter. This scene where he yells and speaks to Beale about this is fascinating. Not just because what is being said but because of Finch who sort of steals the scene from Beatty without saying a word. Beale's quiet face is masterfully done by Finch who slowly changes just brilliantly well he is being spoken to. Finch does so much here without saying a word it is incredible. It also shows that Finch is not just over the top and loud in this performance but has this brilliant quiet moment too. After this Finch has his pessimistic speeches which he correctly infuses the right energy although the message is far more depressing than his earlier speeches.
Overall this performance is just brilliant from Finch. His win was not a sympathy win since he fully deserved to win for this astounding performance. Despite the downright craziness of his character Finch never plays Beale, in a wrong way. Somehow he makes Beale seem realistic in his own particular way even in the face of non realism involving some of the plot elements around him. Finch is technically over the top but Finch never seems to be saying look at me, but rather look at Howard Beale, the crazy prophet. A completely perfect performance that creates a fascinating and character, and is the most memorable part of a memorable film.