Thursday, 15 May 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1961: Sidney Poitier in A Raisin in The Sun

Sidney Poitier did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe and a Bafta, for portraying Walter Lee Younger in A Raisin in The Sun.

A Raisin in The Sun is about the trails of a poor black family when it seems their lives may be improved by an insurance payment. As a play adaptation it is pretty much by the numbers for the time, particularly in the use of its score, but the material itself is strong enough to make the film worth watching.

Sidney Poitier is playing rather far from his usual type here as Walter Lee Younger is neither a hero or really even that good of a man. In fact it would be easy enough to call him a bit of a jerk. Poitier in turn gives a performance that is rather different from most of his performances from the time. Firstly he practically rids himself of that substantial charm that made him such a star to begin with. Poitier smartly does this though as Walter Lee really simply is not a man worthy of Poitier's charisma, and it would be wrong for Poitier to approach the part in his usual way. Instead from his first scene we see a very different Sidney Poitier since the first scene depicts Walter Lee complaining about his current plight but in a way where his hatred is very much directed at his exasperated wife Ruth (Ruby Dee).

It is very interesting see Poitier in a genuinely unlikable role like this and Poitier does not appear out his element as he creates Walter Lee as a man who pretty much has some sort of problem with everything in his life. The initial scene of Walter harassing Ruth is well done by Poitier because he really establishes it as a very casual manner to it. Poitier does not make Walter Lee's behavior out to be that of a monster, but rather in his performance Poitier very much makes it a reflection of Walter Lee's own defense mechanism. Walter Lee hates so many things about his life but rather living with it in himself he takes it out on his family instead. Poitier shows this through his performance as he makes Walter Lee's behavior have a wavering intensity fitting for just his standard attitude to attempt to deal with his life. 

Poitier is rather good at capturing the behavior of Walter Lee which runs a certain gambit yet is always controlled by that general frustration toward his life. There will be moments where Poitier brings some warmth and joy when times seem somewhat happy. Poitier handles this well though by keeping always an underlying unpleasantness reinforcing the idea that Walter Lee is driven by his frustrations. Poitier builds his around this idea quite well and makes every action of Walter Lee's seem believable. In the moments where Walter is basically just wallowing in self pity Poitier shows Walter Lee in these moments as having been overwhelmed by his frustrations to the point that he can't get over them merely by complaining or harassing someone else.

I have to say that I do have a problem with this performance it is that Poitier does fall a bit on the theatrical side of things a little too often. Walter Lee should be a loud a boisterous jerk anyway, but at times the loudness feels much more like Poitier's acting than what should be coming from the character. This is fairly surprising I suppose as Poitier usually has considerable restraint in his performances, but then again his characters more often are pretty restrained men which is not the case here. Poitier definitely does not bad because of this but it definitely is noticeable here. That is a shame though because Poitier does indeed have such an effortless quality in his other performances that result in definitely more refined performances than this performance which does not come off as nearly as assured.

Honestly the weakness of Poitier's work seem very much the nature of the film's direction which just tries a little harder than it needs to a certain times. Poitier for the most part though does gives an effective performance that makes his character's actions understandable even if some scenes he could have toned his performance down a little for a stronger impact. This is an intriguing performance to be sure as Poitier does play against type and in terms of playing against type Poitier definitely succeeds. The shortcomings of his work come from somewhere else entirely, and perhaps it simply was because he was reprising his stage role so he did not really attune himself for film in this case. Either way this still stands as a good, if imperfect performance, that suggests Poitier was capable of playing flawed characters.

24 comments:

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I'm going to change my predictions now:

1. Mifune
2. Bogarde
3. Gable
4. Cagney
6. Poitier

Michael McCarthy said...

Gonna ditto Robert here...

1. Mifune
2. Bogarde
3. Gable
4. Cagney
5. Poitier

luke higham said...

Mine will change as well
1. Mifune
2. Bogarde
3. Gable
4. Cagney
5. Poitier

RatedRStar said...

Same here lol we take this so seriously =D

1. Mifune
2. Bogarde
3. Gable
4. Cagney
5. Poitier

JackiBoyz said...

=D darn it lol.

1. Mifune
2. Bogarde
3. Cagney
4. Gable
5. Poitier

Michael Patison said...

Same here:
1. Mifune
2. Bogarde
3. Gable
4. Cagney
5. Poitier

Kevin said...

1. Mifune
2. Bogarde
3. Cagney
4. Gable
5. Poitier

Lezlie said...

I'll jump on the bandwagon too.

1. Mifune
2. Bogarde
3. Gable
4. Cagney
5. Poitier

luke higham said...

Louis: What would you say is Denzel Washington's Best Performance.

mcofra7 said...

1. Mifune
2. Gable
3. Bogarde
4. Cagney
5. Poitier

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, what's your rating and thoughts on Robert Duvall in Gods and Generals?

Matt Mustin said...

Also, ratings and thoughts on the cast of X-Men: First Class?

RatedRStar said...

@Luke: Did you watch the Baftas last night? Sean Harris best actor speech was one of the best ever lol.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: Not Yet, but I have it on Sky +/DVR, so I will see it later tonight if possible.

Anonymous said...

Louis what are your thoughts on The Mad Max trilogy.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: Cry Freedom is probably his most consistent that I have seen, but Malcolm X is where he achieves his highest heights.

Duvall - 4(His take on Lee is a bit more down to earth than Sheen's which makes sense as his Lee is building his reputation rather than living it. He carries his scenes well and has the command and passion needed)

Matt:

Fasssbender - 4(I find his Magneto to be far stronger than McKellen's as he brings the needed passion and ferocity for such a character)

McAvoy - 3(I don't find him to be particularly distinctive in his performance in that he never a way in which you would definitely say he's professor X, but he still is perfectly fine)

Bacon - 3.5(He definitely plays it up all a bit, but does so in quite an entertaining fashion with enough menace within it.)

Bryne - 2(Very forgettable but then again so is her part)

Lawrence - 2.5(She is fine her but overall doesn't make all that much of an impact)

January Jones - 1.5(Absurdly wooden line readings that don't even work in context with her icy character)

Hoult - 2.5(He's energetic enough and stands out past some of the other sides characters)

Anonymous:

Mad Max - (Gibson is good here as he is in all of them and leads them all well. I do find the film is a tad disjointed in nature and repetitive for awhile in the middle, but its action quite effective particularly the revenge climax)

Road Warrior - (Easily the best of the series and greatly helped by the very contained story its telling. Really establishes the setting well, and is a thrilling action movie with a particularly memorable villain)

Beyond Thunderdome - (Well Tina Turner is no Lord Humongous. This one feels like too much of a retread of the superior second one far too often particularly in the chase scene at the end which is very anticlimactic. The only truly memorable aspects of the film is the name and Master/Blaster.

luke higham said...

Louis: Have you seen Godzilla yet? If so what were thoughts on the film, as well as your ratings & thoughts for the cast.

Louis Morgan said...

Yes I've seen Godzilla and I quite enjoyed it even though it is not really as advertised. I thought it was brilliantly directed by Gareth Edwards as he gave the monsters the massive scale they deserved and you could feel their size in the film.

The script though could have done far more with the human characters though, not that any of them were truly bad they just were a bit too thin.

Anyway the cast:

Cranston - 3.5(I would have preferred if he really had been lead as the trailers suggested. He is very good in his scenes really driving forcefully the emotional devastation of his character, and showing just the sort of pain the monsters could cause)

Johnson - 2.5(He's really not that bad here as he just does not have to much to work with anyway. He's just fine at being the straight forward hero)

Hawkins - 2(She really is kinda just there and overshadowed by Watanabe every step of the way)

Binoche - 2.5(Far too little time to make much of what she has, but she is good in her brief time)

Olsen - 2.5(Limited as well but technically she is good within these limits)

Strathairn - 2.5(Does the military exposition exactly as it should be)

Watanabe - 3.5(He delivered all of his moments with great conviction and gave all the most dramatic lines the appropriate epic quality needed for this sort of film. Honestly I would say he most understood, out of anyone in the cast, what sort of film Edwards was making)

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Did you see Grand Budapest Hotel yet? Because I saw it and loved it.

Matt Mustin said...

I feel like Ken Watanabe is one of those actors who brings something to every film he's in even if the role is not much. Inception is a good example. Hell, he even brought something to his brief role in Batman Begins.

Michael McCarthy said...

I also loved Grand Budapest Hotel, and I sincerely hope Ralph Fiennes gets a review here, if not an actual Oscar nomination.

luke higham said...

If Worst comes to Worst, with the academy's lineup, with probably the exceptions of Steve Carell in Foxcatcher & Timothy Spall in Mr Turner who are getting great notices from Cannes, I'm hoping Louis reviews 10 instead of 5 for the alternative lineup, in case of a ridiculous chance that this year surpasses the last in his eyes.

Anonymous said...

Louis, What did you make of Mel Gibson in The Bounty.

Louis Morgan said...

Mel Gibson - 3.5(Gibson is very good in balancing the heroic yet somewhat unsavory qualities in his performance for most of the film. I wish he played the mutiny scene differently though. Yes he based his performance of that scene on historical record but it just did not meld well with the rest of his performance)