Sean Connery did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Joe Roberts in The Hill.
The fact that Sean Connery received no awards interest for this film is no surprise. He was James Bond at the time simple as that, and it would take a long time for him to be separated from the character, and even longer for the academy to bother recognize him. Also he was not helped by the fact that The Hill, although recognized other places, was completely ignored by the academy. This is completely absurd of course because this is a great film, infinitely better than A Thousand Clowns, and for the academy not even to recognize Harry Andrews who won The NBR for Supporting actor, shows the Hill to be one of the biggest oversights by the academy.
Sean Connery portrays one of the prisoners of the camp Joe Roberts who was a former Sergeant Major. He is very different than the rest of the prisoners who are there for theft, going awol, or some other petty military crime, Roberts there is for punching an officer after refusing to send his men into a surely fatal mission. Roberts also was a successful career soldier and his fall from grace was sudden. Connery is perfect for the role of the once completely loyal soldier. Connery shows early on that he is not the same as the rest of the men, and his stance, and look shows us Roberts's history before coming to the prison.
Connery is great here because he still does keep much of what a career soldier who have from his very proper posture to his ability to carry out the orders, but there is something very different about him that shows how he fell out of favor. Roberts is in rebellion of what he has once served so faithfully, but it is not from laziness or cowardice but from his own sense of right and wrong. Connery does not portray this anger as some random notion that has just suddenly come from nowhere, but rather it was a slow realization of the all of the problems with the military that he has suffered from for far too long.
Something very interesting that Connery does with the role is show that the same conviction that he would have had as a soldier carries right over to his attacks against the system he was once part of. This is a very different role for Connery in that he is always a captive in the film, and Roberts does not fight his way out the situation rather he thinks his way out of it. Connery same power of his presence that he used in his roles as a action hero like James Bond is also quite presence here as he has the same if not greater conviction in his performance here as the hero who has to use his wits instead of his fists to win the day.
Now I almost considered putting Connery in supporting since so much time is given to so many characters in this film, which is part of what makes it such a strong film, but I still do believe Connery is lead even though he might not even have the most screen time in the film. The reason for this is Roberts still is the driving part of the film, and is the one who moves the story forward. Although technically speaking the problems begin due to the death of one the prisoners Stephens (Alfred Lynch) caused by the brutal treatment of the sadistic Staff Sergeant Williams (Ian Hendry), it is Roberts who makes sure that Stephens's death will not mean nothing.
Before the death though Connery is excellent in showing exactly how Roberts will not stand for the cowardly Williams. He makes it clear that here Roberts only has hatred for the utterly horrendous human being that is Williams. The strength is within Connery's eyes here showing that Roberts will not suffer the fool of Williams no matter what, and there is always a quiet rebellion going on. Connery is excellent in portraying the intelligence of Roberts. Roberts has easily surmised exactly who Williams is and what his plan of attack on the prisoners is, and Connery never leaves any question to Roberts's strength that continues in the prison.
Connery is particularly superb though in the moment in which he describes the details of Roberts's cowardice charge and the reasoning behind his attack on his superior. What is notable here is that there is no passion in his portrayal, but rather a very sad cynicism. He does not infuse his action with any pride, not because he thinks he was wrong, but rather Connery instead shows that Roberts has made the heartbreaking discovery that despite his fervent attempts to save his men from a suicide mission, that it meant absolutely nothing in the long wrong as they still all died after someone else lead them in anyway.
Connery conveys though that his earlier experience is what sparks his passion to see that justice is done over the death of his fellow prisoner. Roberts finds his own punishment for speaking out, and in his scenes of pushing for justice most of it is speaking retching in pain over a beating he has been given. Connery is excellent here particularly in his scene where he confronts the Regimental Sergeant Major Wilson (Harry Andrews the head of the guards over the death. What is special here is Connery does not convey only anger here like he does in his scenes with Hendry, since Williams is a sadist and Wilson genuinely thinks his helping the men through his harsh treatment.
In his scene where he goes head to head with Wilson though is amazing as Connery shows Roberts basically fall apart in his frustrations over the failures of the code. This is a very different side to Connery here, but he is completely convincing as he shows that really Roberts feels that his whole life has been a falsehood because of the failure of the code he spent most of his life going by. It is an incredible scene because he combines not only his pain he is constantly feeling over his severe beating, but as well his despairing feelings toward the only thing that he has known for his entire life.
The late scenes though are possibly his best as Roberts lies wounded on the floor, but still uses his considerable will to prod the few good men of the prison to do the right thing. Connery through his very quiet portrayal here is superb as he brings to life the fierce determination of Roberts. There is nothing but power in his portrayal as he shows that no matter what Roberts will see justice done. He makes the sheer force of will of Roberts in this scene absolutely come to life, and makes his ability to bring the best out of the men completely believable. This is an excellent showcase of Connery's talent as he not only utilizes his more commonly found command of the screen, but as well effectively shows us that he is fully capable of creating an emotionally resonate character portrait.