Rod Steiger received his second Oscar nomination for portraying concentration camp survivor Sol Nazerman in The Pawnbroker.
Sol Nazerman is a rather interesting character because he does not really act like the sorrowful victim in the film, at least in the way Rod Steiger portrays him. Steiger portrays him indeed as a victim of a terrible crime, not a sorrowful one, but rather a man that it has more of corrupted his world view. He shows sorrow at times, but not for most of the time which is what makes Nazerman such an interesting character. I really came into thought it was at first going to be about a very sad man, dealing with his sadness, but that is not the case.
Sol Nazerman instead became an incredibly pessimistic soul from experience. I think the brief sequences showing Sol before and during his time in the concentration camp. I think especially the opening scene where Steiger shows a happy family man who is happy in his life in his family, a wordless scene but a powerful one because of the difference between Steiger happiness here, and his behavior as the old Sol Nazerman. There also a few brief flashbacks to his time as in the concentration camp itself. These scenes are indeed brief but Steiger completely honest reaction is what makes these scenes so incredibly heartbreaking, since he makes Sol's loss very personal.
Later though Sol has become a pessimistic man who runs a pawn shop in New York City, showing no happiness in his job or his, and more of going through the motions. He is an associated of a crime boss overacted by Brock Peters, who uses his pawn shop as a front for criminal activities. He shows a distaste for a man at the beginning of the film, but still deals with him nonetheless. He greets everyone though with a distaste viewing all as scum to him, and not worth anything. Steiger makes his pessimism again extremely authentic, which makes his loss of care for man all the more harrowing.
Sol has the thoughts of his past, of what he lost, and what he witnesses. He remembers these events but he does not precisely react initially. He is reminded when he sees current events in the slums he lives that remind of concentration camp events, or also when he barraged by a junkie with Anti-Semitic slurs. Steiger reactions here are interesting because although the film shows him technically think through flashback about the past, Sol's reaction is lacking in emotion. This is not to say that Steiger does not act with these reactions, his performance is extraordinary because Steiger shows that Sol does not really react only because of the lifelessness of the character which Steiger conveys perfectly.
The extreme pessimism and hatred deep inside the character is brilliantly shown by Steiger especially in two key scenes. One is his uncaring, reaction to a friendly woman who only wishes to friendly greet. His darkly stark reaction is uncaring, and cold, a perfect coldness that shows the inner dread and loss in his character. Another scene though where he more loudly, but just as realistically, shows his pessimism to the entire world is when his local employee asks him about how Jewish people are successful. His long speech about his feelings that money is the only thing that matters is hauntingly told by Rod Steiger again due to the matter of fact realistic emotion he brings to Nazerman.
Nazerman though slowly begins to show more profound emotions that not even his world view have completely gotten rid of. The development of these actual emotions come from his slow realization of similarities of his experience and of some individuals in the slums where he works. Steiger slow portrayal of these growing is well handled, since he does not force them or over play them in the least. He displays them quietly but incredibly effectively in two moments, where he cannot shed his feelings of the past any longer. The key scene where he admits to these feelings is when a prostitute tries to offer herself to him, and all he can think of is his wife being raped by the Nazis. A tragic and powerful moment that a truly authentic feeling and heartbreaking because of Steiger. I think even the flash backs get forced after awhile but Steiger himself is always true, and creates a sad meaningful portrayal of a man who has become lost in this film.