Jack Nicholson won his first Oscar from his sixth nomination for portraying Randle McMurphy in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest.
Jack Nicholson by the time he won his Oscar here had certainly become completely Jack Nicholson, with his unique style and presence on film. This film frankly clearly is aware of Nicholson's other performances in Chinatown, The Last Detail, and Five Easy Pieces. It knows this I think because there are so many scenes that seem so much directed in a way to make them classic Jack Nicholson moments.
Although the scene may be set up a little obviously for this reason, it does not diminish their strength nor the strength of Nicholson's performance. These scenes are there for him to show off, and boy Nicholson most certainly does incredibly well every time he has a chance. Whether it is acting out a baseball game, attempting to trick a boat owner, trying to teach the seemingly deaf and mute Chief basketball, or later playing that basketball game, Nicholson does excel every time because he is effectively entertaining, and he does use it as part of McMurphy as a character, as just a guy who really cannot be tamed.
Only Nicholson could really be this entertaining and magnetic as McMurphy, Nicholson just always hit the right notes in every scene to make them work just right, and not seem forced because he is so good at them. Nicholson is just never off despite not playing any of these scenes in safe manner. He always really goes out on a limb, a limb where he lesser actor could of overacted or really fallen flat but Nicholson never does.
Jack Nicholson though is not only these scene though, and he does fully realize McMurphy as a character as well. He makes McMurphy clearly rather aimless, and just never wants to be controlled by anyone else. I think Nicholson particularly excels in his early moment with the institution's main doctor. It is not a large scenes, but Nicholson brilliantly tells exactly how McMurphy has gotten here, as well as how he is not the guy who is easy to regret anything.
His other important scenes are of course his interactions with the other patients as well as with Nurse Ratched. With the other patients Nicholson is rather interesting because he shows that McMurphy never really fully understands them, and fails to understand how they can so institutionalized. Nicholson brings out the right mix of this lack of understanding as well, as a pity of sorts as well, as well as amused by them too, it is a fascinating dynamic McMurphy has with the other patients which I think works because of Nicholson.
His other pivotal relationship is his antagonistic one with Nurse Ratched. I think much of this actually comes with reaction shots from Nicholson where he slowly builds up an incredible hatred for the controlling Nurse. Much of what he does is indirectly attacking her, and Nicholson is terrific in showing this as McMurphy way of defiance against her. It is interesting because Nicholson portrays his hatred as more of a side effect of her just being the authority figure, but slowly he shows it becomes far more personal leading to his final violent outburst at the end of the film.
This is an amazing performance by Nicholson, a performance that seems to be played always with incredible ease. Nicholson never seems to be trying in this performance, and that is what makes it as good as it is. Nicholson's magnetic personality, as well as his constant ability to entertain always comes naturally with Nicholson in this performance. It is a great performance, because Nicholson always shows he was a perfect fit for McMurphy.