John Garfield received his second and final Oscar nomination for portraying boxer Charlie Davis in Body and Soul.
The downtrodden boxer seems to be a popular role going at least back to The Champ. Charlie Davis though is not always a downtrodden boxer throughout the film, and the film goes through his rise and his fall. Garfield is believable in the role as the boxer, and the working class guy. He is just fine as he slowly works up the ranks as a boxer, even though some of his success is unfortunately helped by shady characters. Garfield is just fine as the man you follow throughout his career as a boxer, he shows Charlie's ambition well enough.
Garfield performance early on here is perfectly fine although never overly interesting. This is not because of Garfield but Charlie as a character is mostly reacted upon in these early scenes. Most everyone else tells him what to do, and Garfield just shows Charlie's want to succeed. There really is not all that much to his performance in these scenes, Garfield is fine, but Charlie really is incredibly simple. The moral dilemma is mostly shown by the good people like his mother played by the ever boring Anne Revere, his ill fated friend, his former opponent turned manager, his girlfriend, conflicting with the bad people such as the crooks involved with his career, and his other girlfriend. It is mostly the other people tugging on Charlie, without Charlie really reacting exactly. Garfield as I said is fine, but Charlie is simply not an active character for most of the film.
He finally reacts to his situation at the beginning before it flashes back, and at the end of the film. Charlie finally starts to see the problems of being helped by the mob since now they want him to take a dive, and he sees how poorly they treat his friends. Charlie starts to actually react, and Garfield finally can really show his acting chops. He shows well how Charlie now sees the problems in his life well, and Garfield gives a good honest and emotional performance. He shows Charlie's loss well, and his want to finally refuse the corrupt men who are now controlling him. He makes the final fight satisfying by making Charlie's refusal to be controlled very honest and powerful. It is a strong end to his performance which I wish the whole performance was. If Charlie had been a more reactive character throughout Garfield's performance could have been great, but since Charlie is so simple for most of the film Garfield performance remain just good.