John Malkovich did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons.
John Malkovich's casting here certainly was a point of contention when the film originally came out with his rather unorthodox appearance. The Valmont is a perpetual and successful womanizer, and it seems many would think Valmont would probably look a little less devious to begin with like perhaps Colin Firth in Valmont for example. The same could be said about his charms as well as Malkovich is not especially suave in the role of Valmont either, and one might think he would need to be to be believed in the amount of conquests he partakes in.
The question is though does Malkovich really need to be traditionally handsome and Clark Gable type charming for the role, and the simple answer is no. What Malkovich expresses most with Valmont here is the method in which Valmont goes upon his sexual expeditions. Malkovich instead of really trying to hide the sliminess that really does make up his character he instead portrays Valmont as a man who very much revels in exactly what he is. There is no shame in his performance and Malkovich very much accentuates the mechanics of his seductions more than anything else with his portrayal of Valmont.
There are many liaisons we see Valmont having but we only see two seductions portrayed in the film a routine one, and more daring one of Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer) who is known for her virtue. In both Malkovich does not show Valmont as attempting really any charm in fact there is always far more of a strategy at play that utilizes both the gender roles of the time as well as the emotions of the woman in both cases. Malkovich is properly calculated as he shows the strategy of Valmont at all times to the audience well at the same time creating the proper ruse that he uses against the women.
Malkovich's makes Valmont's success with both women very convincing actually in the harsh brutality of his seductions. In the first he creates Valmont's method as making himself a bizarre teacher in a most brutal but believable fashion in his success with her through the uncompromising method that Malkovich portrays it all. In the other more difficult one though Malkovich again makes the strategy of Valmont something very clear as Valmont this time makes himself a haunted lost soul who would kill himself if Tourvel does not take his love.
As strange as his seduction method with Tourvel might sound Malkovich brings it to life through his depiction of Valmont who he portrays as throwing himself fully into his demented game. Malkovich makes the "depression" both fake and real enough that it would move Tourvel as it does. It is a difficult trick to pull but one that Malkovich is able to accomplish without any seeming effort. In doing this Malkovich carefully infuses just the slightest bit of moments that suggests that maybe Valmont is not entirely lying about his pledged love for Tourvel. It is in very subtle moments that are very well handled by Malkovich.
One of the most important aspects of Valmont is his relationship with Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close). Through most the film both actors portray theirs as a mutual love of their shared despicable nature and the havoc they cause with their games. This does not really change until the end of the film where Merteuil plays her own game against Valmont as she convinces him to brutally reject Tourvel since she sees that he truly loves her. Malkovich and Close are very effective in the scenes as the truly vile nature of both characters are perfectly created by the actors and we see the full extent of their damage that only hurts other but themselves as well.
Malkovich's final scene as Valmont is terrific as he shows him distraught after finally finding some sort of conscious in himself after all. In his final scene Valmont is fatally wounded by a man (Keanu Reeves) he has harmed and reflects on his behavior. The power of the scene is somewhat muted because Reeves might as well say "Uhh sorry dude I did not mean to stab you so hard" and it would have fit his performance. Forgetting about Reeves though Malkovich is quietly moving though as he shows this time finally an honest Valmont for once as he shows the full extent of his depression and self hatred he has created in himself due to his behavior.
This is a strong performance by John Malkovich in both his unique creation of Valmont as well as his execution of his character. He does well in bringing to life every facet of his manipulative character, and never fails to make his conquests believable. He takes a very different approach than many probably would have with the part as he never avoids the sliminess in character, and never really even tries to hide yet he still makes the story work entirely. It quite an achievement that he is able to do this through this method he makes Valmont a compelling as well as properly repulsive character.