Christopher Plummer won his Oscar from his second Oscar nomination for portraying Hal Fields in Beginners.
Christopher Plummer has been described often as overdue surrounding his awards potential for this Oscar year, although I personally would call that a bit of an overstatement. He was only nominated once before for his unremarkable work in The Last Station, and really how many performances has he been snubbed for. He certainly was not for the Sound of Music, in fact besides that his earlier work is rarely ever mentioned. His only performance anyone really considers to be is his fine work in the Insider, but even that performance does not come up with the greatest performances not nominated for an Oscar.
This is not to say Plummer isn't a fine character actor, and a great narrator, but he is not Peter O'Toole when it comes to being overdue. In the end though the Oscar should go to the actual best performance, so how is he actually in Beginners. Plummer certainly has an especially Oscar baiting role here portraying a man who comes out as gay as well as you see through the course of the film dying from cancer, as well as it is very much against Plummer's usual type. This as well does not mean this is a good or bad performance, but it most certainly is a very different type of role for Plummer.
Plummer's has the initial challenge in this role for portraying a gay man which can easily be trouble for any actor, since overacting can certainly be the first option taken. Plummer actually handles his character very well in this respect since he doesn't devolve into obvious mannerisms. That is not to say he does not use mannerisms, but Plummer actually shows that his character of Hal actually tries to sort of create these mannerisms to join in with the gay community. Plummer is actually pretty good in showing a subtle awkwardness Hal has in trying to become part of this group.
Plummer certainly establishes his character well, but I must say the way the film is setup hinders the strength of his performance. It never simply tell his story, but rather the way McGregor's character reacts to him. Plummer does not even get his part of the film all at once but rather drifts in and out of that tale that really mutes emotional impact of the performance. We only are elements of the man, and the full portrait is not establishes as well as it really could have been.
Due to the way Hal is used in the film much of Plummer's performance is unfortunately a repetitive. We see him with his sort of mannerisms as well as a genuine joy that isn't as moving as it could be due the film's editing. We also see plenty of moments of him being tired, and sickly looking, these expressions and reactions are also repeated throughout the film. They are well enough portrayed by Plummer once again, but done in a fashion that never becomes much more than that.
Christopher Plummer performance also rides on two key relationships in the film. One with Hal's boyfriend played rather oddly by Goran Visnjic. This relationship never quite works because of bizarre nature of Visnjic's performance. Plummer tries to make something out of it, but again it never amounts to much. His other pivotal relationship stands with Ewan McGregor's as his son. This is also limited by the film more than it should be, but their few pivotal moments together are Plummer's standout moments in his performance.
Plummer portrays these moments well as he does not make it into an overly warm performance as although they have a good enough relationship, they are not that close. The two actors create just the right amount of distance between each other to make a believable relationship that also establishes their history, since McGregor's Oliver was suppose to have been closer to his mother than his father. Plummer is quite strong though in a single scene where he tells about Hal's the difficult relationship to his wife. It is a moving moment where Plummer shows the pain from Hal's situation very well, and he almost creates this into a great moment, if even this moment seems a little cut short.
This stands as a good performance surely, but not quite a great one. It lacks enough moments where Plummer really stands out with a truly emotionally powerful moment. He has a few strong moments, but overall the effect of his performance is less than it should have been. Plummer is fine throughout of course, but the performance is used in a repetitive fashion that makes even his stronger moments seem less than could have been. Plummer is of course never bad, and does realize Hal's character quite well, but there is not the drive that really brings us right into his character's life.