Michael Caine won his first Oscar from his fourth nomination for portraying Elliot in Hannah and Her Sisters.
Michael Caine portrays Hannah's (Mia Farrow) second husband who from the opening scene is obsessed with and lusts after Hannah's sister Lee (Barbara Hershey). Many of the performances are quite withdrawn in this film as much of what the character comes in the form of their own narration over what their character is thinking and feeling. This is especially true of Caine's performance and character of Elliot since he not only has plenty of narration scenes but many of his scenes involve him trying to hide his feelings toward his wife sister, or keeping their later affair a secret.
Caine though effectively portrays the part despite the technical limitations that are put upon almost throughout his entire performance. From his very first scene Caine realizes Elliot's lust for his wife sister just perfectly. It is careful and subtle work by Caine that realizes his character's state quite well. Caine finds just the right line between being secretive of what Elliot wants in that unless you look closely you would not notice it. Caine has just the right simple, and subtle indications of Elliot desires for Lee. He shows it really as although he is holding back to such a degree he wants her so much that he comes through nevertheless.
Caine continues to find just the right path for his character as Elliot shyly tries to pursue the affair. Caine is quite good in the way he brings a slight comedic touch to his performance here as he could have portrayed the part completely straight. He just brings the right up amount of humor to his performance as he avoids every pushing to hard for any comedy, but makes it feel entirely natural within his performance. Caine just finds it within his character rather erratic behavior as he almost tries to woo her, without doing so, but trying to do so without being obvious about it. The funny thing is despite Elliot being erratic Caine never overplays a moment of it finding just the right tone for it all.
Caine is terrific in his moments when Elliot finally does reveal his precise feelings to Lee rather suddenly. Caine shows the transition of Elliot well as well still showing that he does not have a single emotion in the moment still showing some hesitation and embarrassment but more specifically in this one scene showing more joy over finally coming out with his true feelings finally. It is funny actually about Caine performance that there is never a single scene where he lets a single emotion override the rest Elliot is one confused fellow and Caine realizes this wonderfully. This particularly special scene for Elliot is the closest Elliot comes to feeling a single emotion which is happiness and Caine brings this out incredibly well.
Although the affair really seems to be given less and less time within the film along with Caine himself the glimpses given Caine continues to bring to life his character's unique situation. Still there is no set emotion Elliot feels about the affair, but Caine is good in showing that after Elliot has achieved the affair he has a lot less fun with it than before he actually even approached it directly, and appropriately the humor does disappear from his performance. Caine in his briefer moments shows the internal struggle that Elliot is facing almost silently. It is an effective portrait of this man who really has no idea of his path, and even in the end when it seems Elliot does seem to know what he wants still has the slightest glint of regret in his performance. It is a very strong performance by Caine that never fails to bring to life the emotional state of his character despite the complexity of it all as well as the subdued nature of the role.