Howard Rollins received his only Oscar nomination for portraying Coalhouse Walker Jr. in Ragtime.
The story that becomes focused on in the second half of the film is about Coalhouse Walker. Coalhouse first appears in the film as the father of an abandoned child. He comes to take responsibility. In these early scenes Rollins has great deal of pride in his performance that shows Walker to genuinely accept his responsibility, as well as someone who wants to be treated with respect by others. He has a quite dignity and intelligence in his performance that is necessary to set him up before his fall. Later though Coalhouse runs into some serious problems when he is mistreated by a few local firemen, which sets up a tragic chain of events. Rollins is very good at first showing how Coalhouse just wants to be treated with a little human decency, nothing more. Rollins makes it clear that all he wants is the genuine respect he deserves as any man deserves nothing more. Rollins really is good at showing how the frustrations are slowly bursting below the surface that works to his radical decision that he eventually comes to.
Eventually he goes to his radical plan to get what he wants which includes killing, bombing, and overtaking a building to get his demands. Rollins I suppose I just wanted a little more from here than the rest of his performance. There just, for me, was never quite the moment in his performance to show Coalhouse finally go over the edge. He still certainly is good I just wish the moment of being pushed to far had been there, since his performance certainly would have been more powerful. The last scenes of his performance Rollins is most certainly good, but I guess I think he could have been amazing but he never quite was for me. He certainly still is good trying to keep his dignity even in his problematic situation, but still I always wanted a little more from his performance than he gave. His final outburst that shows how angry he is over the situation is also well handled, but the feeling never left me that that this performance could have been more.