Jack Nicholson received his sixth Oscar nomination for portraying Eugene O'Neil in Reds.
Nicholson successfully steals every single scene he is in as the cynical Eugene O'Neil. He even steals the scene when he barely says anything, or does not say anything at all. Nicholson is very good in these basically silent scenes as he channels O'Neil complete disbelief in the fervor that rules the people he is around, as well as subtly channels the clear attraction he has Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton). Nicholson does an enormous amount with no dialogue far more than say Warren Beatty as Jack Reed who sometimes never stops talking.
His best scenes though come when he does get to talk a little bit more which are the scenes where O'Neil attempts to go after Louise despite her being attached to Jack. Nicholson is simply amazing in this scene as he portrays O'Neil attempt to show how he loves Louise. Nicholson is brilliantly subtle of honestly showing this without for a moment overplaying it. O'Neil never fawns over her, but rather shows it with O'Neil it something deeper within him that really makes him want her for his own. Nicholson is calm, and concise in these scenes and his performance always has a low key charisma that makes not at all question the affair.
This is a fascinating performance by Nicholson because of how well he realizes O'Neil as a person despite the fact that he is given little screentime and very little background information. O'Neil is always looking for a drink Nicholson never plays him drunk but rather shows that he has been an alcoholic for a very long time, since Nicholson always shows O'Neil drinking to be simply something he just does. It is part of his always state of a sort of semi depression that Nicholson conveys brilliantly, he never forces it on the viewer but it is clearly always a part of O'Neil.
Nicholson though never lets one aspect of O'Neil override all the aspects as characters with a little screentime can sometimes be reduced to. He has enough nuance in his performance to turn Eugene O'Neil in to a full fledged human being. In fact he brings O'Neil more to life than some of the other actors do with their characters. He creates a fascinating performance of a cynical somewhat depressed man, who finds a certain joy, as well as pain with his affair with a married woman. This is great performance that not only stands out in this long film, but is in fact by far the best part of the film.