Rip Torn received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Marsh Turner in Cross Creek.
Rip Torn portrays one of the residents of the town Marsh Turner, and something interesting about Torn's nomination is that Torn is portraying a character who was the inspiration for an earlier Oscar nominated character. The character portrayed by Gregory Peck in The Yearling who was nominated in the lead role. It almost two actors playing the same character though since they were really both are supporting characters in their films, Peck's lead position most likely came from merely his leading man status. Both portray a farming father in the backwoods of Florida, and both are forced to separate their child from their pet Doe who after growing up threatens the family's livelihood.
In every way, and I mean every way Torn's performance is better than Gregory Peck's. Where Peck downright struggled to find an accent to fits his character's very specific dialect. Torn is actually quite natural though with accent that fits his character well and shows us where he is from. A southern style accent really is one of the most easily distracting accents, especially when done poorly. Peck for example tried to avoid kind of, but instead just sounded unnatural reciting the dialect of the region. Torn handles it especially well that only succeeds in amplifying his character, and certainly making his dialect seem like just part of the man as a whole.
A great deal of his performance is just creating this somewhat unusual man with his very distinct lifestyle. Torn is effective in doing this in a rather simple fashion by not trying to ever make his character overly colorful. Torn plays it straight and just wants to show Marsh as a the man he is. Torn effectively conveys the whole history of not only this man but also the state of the people in Cross Creek. In his manner, the way he talks the way he walks he shows the experience of this man's hard life that is very specific to his land, he shows the whole sometimes very difficult life of this man in his performance.
Marsh Tuner in the film is a man who is very much rough around the edges. He is uncouth, and not always careful particularly with his pigs. He never quite seems to be fully able to express himself perfectly, or understand the manners others go by. Nevertheless he has a distinct moral code, and is a gentleman in heart. Torn again brings this to life well. He subtly shows that inside his rather crude exterior is a good man, it is not in a way in which he actively tries to be good. Torn rather that there is an inherit morality in the man, that when he is forced to he can't help but express it. He presents it as just the natural reaction of Marsh no matter the situation.
The pivotal moments of his performance do come when he kills his daughter doe. The Yearling biggest problem was the lack of weight brought by Peck in these scenes where the death of his son only friend seemed to barely phase him. Torn on the other hand brings the true weight of the scene through his performance. Torn rather brings to life the incredible pain and sorrow that Marsh feels for doing this to his daughter, whom he loves, even though it is what he has to do. His final scenes are heartbreaking as he brings us into Marsh's drunken despair he feels for what he has done.
This is a good performance by Rip Torn that realizes his unique character effectively. It is also interesting to see how Rip Torn succeeds with his character in the ways in which Gregory Peck failed in his portrayal of almost the same one. I would say it is not an incredible performance as it is held back a little just by the time the film devotes to him, at times his character seems a little too much like an after thought, and his interactions with the Steenburgen's character frankly could have been more fleshed out sense I think the film could have used more of his character. Still this is a good performance that fulfills his role well.