Gene Hackman received his second Oscar nomination for portraying Gene Garrison in I Never Sang for My Father.
Gene Hackman shows a very different side here, but shows that he can excel as well with a relatively meeker character than his rather domineering characters found in most of his other nominations. This is a very quiet performance by Hackman for much of the film. A great deal of his performance actually relies on short reactionary moments, which Hackman uses to their fullest potential from beginning to end. Much of his performance depends on these reactions as they establish Gene's relationship with his mother and especially his father.
Hackman is simply excellent early on as Gene interacts with both his parents. Through every early moment they are on screen their is already a clear family dynamic and history developed. Hackman is great every moment though as Gene listens to his father's various orders, and deals with his overall controlling nature Hackman always perfectly portrays an underlying pain, and hatred frankly that Gene is constantly hiding toward his father. Hackman makes though so this is something Gene has long had to do, even if it clear troubles him every time his father makes a rather discouraging or controlling remark to him.
Hackman always has an emotional impact in his performance, and his early scenes with Gene's mother and father really bring us into his difficult situation with his mother and father. Hackman almost shows a tiring situation with Gene's situation with his father, as he reacts with a knowing but expected difficultly when dealing with his father. Both Douglas and Hackman do very well in establishing this difficult relationship where both do not seem exactly cold to each other, or even overly distant but the two actors create just the right emotional disconnection through the father's stubbornness and possessiveness.
Hackman is also equally strong in the few early scenes Gene has with his mother. Their relationship together is the basically the polar opposite of Gene's relationship with his father. There is a clear warmth and love in their scenes together they look at each other talk to one another with ease, unlike the way it is between the son and the father. Hackman here shows a clear and obvious love toward his mother, and an openness, there is not that restraint as he shows in his scenes with Douglas. What is terrific about Hackman's performance though is he does not show that Gene simply hates his father but loves his mother rather, but rather the difference is in his ability to be open to both of them.
Soon in the film his mother dies, and both the son and father must deal with the grief involved with it. Hackman realizes Gene own grief showing a clear loss, but even more importantly he shows a transition within Gene 's relationship with his father. There is still the lack of connection, but Hackman shows that Gene first changes from hiding to hatred to instead begins hiding a bit of a disbelief by the way his father shows his grief only really by talking about himself and his own troubles rather than talking about his wife.
After the death of the mother the end of the film focuses almost entirely on Gene and his father's relationship together, and Gene decision to leave his father completely by moving away, or staying with him. Hackman in these later scenes loses that hidden sort of distaste for his father, as Hackman shows that really he has lost it after the death of his mother. Hackman with ease instead shows it as Gene actually searching instead for some way to finally connect with Father, something that the death of his mother has forced him to confront the issue.
Hackman is terrific as he shows the multitude of emotions that Gene must go threw when thinking of his decision to stay with his father or not. Hackman is great here because he never lets just one facet of the relationship stay as what is pressing Gene the most. Hackman realistically conveys all of what is pressing him at once. There is not a single emotion that overrides the rest in Hackman's portrayal. He is able to show that he clearly loves his father, but that still he never forgets the troubles he has with his father as well. Hackman realizes Gene's troubles perfectly, creating the difficult conflict within himself brilliantly.
Hackman is great throughout but what makes his performance is his final scene with Melvyn Douglas which is simply incredible. The first half of the scene they finally really come together as father and son, and both actors show a genuine warmth to one another. It is a poignant moment where the two come together not only around their pleasant memories, but even their regrets as well. Hackman has a great reaction where he shows a regreat in Gene that suggest that he does also feel partially responsible for his strained relationship with his father. The two actors though simply create a beautiful scene together.
The scene though quickly, but effectively changes tone when the conflict between them comes about. This scenes is especially strong because of their warmth together suddenly changes so harshly. Hackman again is absolutely amazing because he comes back at Douglas with the same intensity and Gene finally completely breaks out and stands up to his father. Hackman makes the scene heartbreaking though because with the frustration and the intense fighting Hackman manages to show the sadness in the fact that through all of this Gene only merely wanted to be able to love his father. The film leaves a haunted quality at the end of the film because of this last scene, which was brought upon by Hackman's truly great performance.