Martin Sheen did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a BAFTA, for portraying Captain Benjamin Willard in Apocalypse Now.
Sheen is far more reserved after this point although properly does show a certain intensity beneath the surface of Willard that never truly leaves him. A very strong moment of Sheen's comes early on when he's given his new assignment to assassinate Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) with extreme prejudice. During the scene his superiors basically lay out a few of his earlier assignments which Willard properly denies after having existed. In the moment though Sheen is quite terrific in portraying the memories of these killings in his haunted face as they go over them. We don't know what exactly these mission required or entailed exactly, but Sheen hints at through his face as Willard seems to be remembering them ironically enough while denying that they every happens. It's once again an effective moment for Sheen and his first scene with this one does well to set up where Willard is coming from.
Even though Sheen is the lead of the film once the journey starts though he often takes the back burner to the other characters of the film. His narration is always present though, which apparently was performed by both Sheen and his brother, which has the right dour quality as his voice sound like a man going to a place of true darkness. As soon as the journey starts though Sheen is pushed to the side by the larger than life characters he encounters the first being Robert Duvall's Colonel Kilgore. Duvall dominates all of his scenes without question. Even after that meeting Sheen is not always the main focus on the boat focuses more often on the interactions of the other crew members. Willard is seen as the outsider and is often away from the others and really when it focuses on Willard in the boat it is usually when he is reading Kurtz's file and reacting to that man's history.
On re-watch of the film I was surprised at just how reactionary Sheen's performance ends up being in the film as most of it depicts Willard watching others and only are there a few actions of Willard are relatively brief in nature and interestingly enough usually focus on the other characters reactions. For example after the crew accidentally murders a group of civilians and suddenly Willard finishes off the only survivor the focus on Sheen is very brief making it quick moment with us barely even able to see Willard's whole mindset. This is not to be negative toward Sheen in the slightest as his subtle reactions usually are well handled adding to the atmosphere of any scene through his own troubled reaction as the journey slowly becomes even more perilous. In fact almost all of Sheen reactions are well done even the more intense reactions such as one where a head is dropped in Willard's lap, and Sheen's reaction is properly realistic.
I have to say I was a bit surprised altogether with my revaluation of this performance as I find in the whole scheme of the film Sheen's performance does not have all that great of an impact. In the overall tapestry of Francis Ford Coppola's film Sheen actually does not make his presence all that known and does seem to be just a part of the tapestry that Coppola paints. I don't want to sound overly negative though as Sheen is good in the part, and gives a solid performance. Even in terms of the performances of the film though Sheen is overshadowed by almost every one of the flashier performances, and there are cases where a withdrawn performance can makes the biggest impact. That is not the case here as Sheen never quite gives a great performance here, it's a good performance I have no doubt about that but it's no longer one I feel goes beyond the call of duty (no pun intended).