Adrien Brody won his Oscar from his first nomination for portraying Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist.
Adrien Brody is an actor who seems to matching the great F. Murray Abraham in his lacking roles after his Oscar win, except where Abraham simply is in movies no really has heard of, Brody tends to be in somewhat notable films, but usually giving rather dull performances. His future performances and career choices though should not influence one's view of his actual Oscar winning performance.
Wladyslaw Szpilman is not a particularly special man, sure he is a great pianist, but as a man he really is just a man. He not some great hero, just a level headed one who tries his best to survive despite his odds. Brody portrays Szpilman correctly by always emphasizing this fact. Brody does not take this to make him dull though, but just normal man, simple in some ways, who happens to be in a terrible situation.
This is never a performance about obvious acting ever. His portrayal is about subtly in portraying Szpilman's reactions to his situation. The few technically more obvious things he does, are still very much underplayed, and handled always in a realistic fashion. For example his accent he uses, as well as the soft manner in which he speaks always seems entirely natural, in fact he seems so natural here, that his voice he uses in some of his later performances sounds a tad phony.
The strongest aspect of this performance is his reactions to his situations, Brody never overplays a single emotion, he never calls out the emotions, but most certainly shows them as purely as possible. His reactions are sometimes very small, sometimes larger, but always finely attuned to emphasize the real human emotion of every horrible event or sight he must endure.
Brody punctuates every emotional moment of Szpilman's journey perfectly, particularly the more powerful moments such as his heartbreaking reaction after knowing he will probably never see his family ever again, or his scenes where he either imagines playing the piano, or when he finally actually plays the piano again. Brody always employs truthful emotion that brings the right emotional response to every moment.
Brody's performance is a restrained in some ways simple performance, but always a deeply moving performance. Brody never fails to bring us into Szpilman's story, making every painful moment as real as possible. He never takes a wrong step in his entire performance. He gives a consistently believable, and effective performance that acts perfectly as the center of this powerful film.