Jack Nicholson received his second Oscar nomination for portraying Robert Dupea in Five Easy Pieces.
This is Nicholson's first Oscar nomination for portraying the lead of a film, and it certianly is striking to see him here in his prime as an actor. Nicholson here is quite interesting because although he is quite clearly at the top of his form, there is less if what you normally see in a Nicholson performance, as he has not completely developed some of his trademarks yet, which he perfected in some of his later performance.
That is not a slight to his later performances nor this performance, it is just fascinating to see this incredibly raw Nicholson performance. In the opening of the film it shows him a just a working class man who is working at an oil field, and spends some time with his friends, and his girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black). Nicholson is natural and effective, in showing that Robert's life is a rather day to day routine, but as well he does suggest the underlining secrets of Robert.
A part of these early scenes are Robert's relationship with Rayette. Nicholson portrays this part of his character interestingly in that he is not at all romantic in these scenes, yet he makes the relationship entirely believable, and their scenes together have a fascinating dynamic that is rather harsh, as well as being incredibly interesting of the connection the two people create with one another anyways.
I think it best shown when he leaves to go on his trip where he harshly abandons her, but struggles with himself, and decides to bring her along after all. Nicholson naturally shows the very complex relationship, and all the conflicting emotions in the relationship with astounding ease.
Now soon enough though it is revealed that Robert was raised in the musical family, and that his father is sick, and therefore he goes on a trip to see his family once again. Here again it is just amazing when Nicholson arrives to see his family because of the complex relationship he has with every single members of his family.
Each relationship Nicholson is brilliant in creating, as he shows such a complex range of emotions with each member of his family. Firstly with his sister who he has a good ease with, yet Nicholson still suggests some distance from her, to his brother who he acts in almost a playful manner with but adds underneath it is possibly a more overt hatred of his brother, and just the pompous privilege he represents.
Even more important is his relationship with his brother's fiancee. With her he shows a hostility again, but as well suggests his desire for her as well. Nicholson has the perfect raw charm in these scenes that make her mutual attraction back to Robert completely believable. Than there is his relationship with his father who is unresponsive from a stroke. Nicholson shows the long history of his relation with his father silently but clearly until his final long talk with his father, were Nicholson is simply amazing.
Something I think that should be mentioned past his brilliant relationships Nicholson creates with Robert are just the classic Nicholson moments which can basically stand alone. They each are amazing moments where Nicholson's magnetic screen quality is the most prevalent and vivid. They include his scene where he does his big scene on the highway and plays a piano on the back of the truck, his anger at a diner who cannot fulfill his order, as well as his description of a Las Vegas revue he played at. Each of these scenes are classic moments on their own because just simply how good Nicholson is. Overall this a strong performance throughout punctuated well with classic Nicholson moments.