Tom Conti received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Gowan McGland in Reuben, Reuben.
Tom Conti's performance is positioned a bit strangely to begin with. Firstly he is made up with his rather unique hair, as well as his unique, and than he is made up to look like a walking corpse. In his opening scene, which unfortunately for the film and his performance is his best scene where he is reading some of his poetry at a women's literary gathering. Conti makes his very unique look and manner work very well in this one scene, showing a slick charm of the poet, and his incredible ease in talking about his work and other literature as well as life.
Tom Conti's whole performance goes very much downhill from here, along with the film itself. He stops seeming like an actual poet and becomes much too much of a movie character poet. He starts living in a rural town and interacting with the various characters there, not quite colorful characters since it is a mostly dramatic film with small comedic elements, so they are not funny characters, but perhaps underwritten characters, played in an overdone manner.
The downturn of the film, and his performance create scene after seem of him being a colorful poet fellow who walks around the town, stealing tips from waiters, seducing women, and either befriending or making enemies with the local men of the town. Although I do think Conti is at all bad with being the always at least half drunk poet, but I do feel the film overuses or wrongly uses his performance putting too much always in the forefront leading to his constant semi-comedic banter to become extremely tiresome fairly quickly.
Gowan though mostly uses his joking exterior to hide a deeply sad man on the inside. Well I know this anyways because well he does look like a corpse most of the time, and of course there is the cliched scene where after joking in public he goes into private and starts crying. Although Conti cries realistically technically his whole portrayal of the sadness of Gowan never really gets deep enough to be anything all that special. That is until his final scene where he thinks over his life quite effectively well that is until just before the end of the scene where he goes and becomes far too theatrical.
Overall this is a performance that shows some very strong moments, particularly in the opening scene and closing scene. Unfortunately in between is tiresome and repetitive. I did not say he was bad in the middle, but he most certainly could have been much better. His performance, besides the first scene, lacks the right charm, as well as the right power, except for in the last scene, to make an honestly compelling or effective performance.