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.
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.