Steve McQueen received his only Oscar nomination for portraying Jake Holman in The Sand Pebbles.
Steve McQueen received this as his only Oscar nomination, which is rarely ever considered to be his greatest or most notable role. It is also a rather different kind of character for McQueen because here he is considerably less in utter command of his situation as with many of his characters. With the character of Holman McQueen is required a far less of a character who is able to control his fate.
McQueen to me is a rather strange actor who sometime puts in odds tics, and mannerisms for absolutely no reason in his performances. In this performance he does not use these tics but there are still oddities to his performance, such as almost randomly through odd line readings that seem out of place with the rest of his performance.
I will say that the stilted line readings, or weird ones tend to come from two places in his performances one being early on when Holman is required to say things in a derogatory fashion about various Chinese, as well as his romantic scenes with Candice Bergen a school teacher at a missionary. McQueen never seems to have his heart in any of these moments leaving them quite empty.
This is not to say all of McQueen does is bad in this performance at all, in fact it is quite the contrary. McQueen although strange sometimes as one is still an actor I like for some reason, a reason I cannot exactly explain why, but I just do. I certianly liked a good deal of what he did here as well, he is very easy to watch having a strong presence on screen almost throughout.
He also in his scenes with just he other men on the ship, and his scenes with the ship's captain (Richard Crenna) he has the right rebellious strength in his performance. McQueen manages to channel this attitude of Holman's well in a sort of quiet discontent and hatred of certian things, but with a certain bit of repression since Holman still does follow the majority of his orders.
These moments McQueen has the perfect rather quiet simple strength in his performance, in most of the scenes on the ship, or the scenes in the club where he helps another fellow crewman Frenchy (Richard Attenborough). McQueen in these moments where Holman is in charge in his own ways is quite effective, and strong showing Holman's resolve, even if a somewhat cynical resolve.
McQueen is never quite great, but he has moments of near greatness such as the difficult moment where Holman must mercy kill his friend. McQueen is very good in this moment realistically portraying Holman's rather heartbreaking struggle in this short scene almost silently. Scenes like that one, are not common in his performance, but they are there, but so are his strange moments as well. It is a mixed performance in many ways, and I would say in the end it does serve its purpose most of the time, sometimes it does far less, but sometimes it does more.