Kurt Russell did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying R.J. MacReady The Thing.
The Thing marks Kurt Russell's second theatrical collaboration with director John Carpenter after the dystopian thriller Escape from New York. Kurt Russell once again seems pegged to portray the hero of the film, and to be sure MacReady is the maverick of the base as the helicopter pilot who has his own base. Russell does not just simply copy Snake Plissken who was the action hero who seemed to have some sort of problem with everyone. Russell's importantly adjusts his performance here because MacReady is not an action hero. In fact the first time we meet MacReady is when he is just casually drinking and loses at electronic chess to his computer opponent. Russell does not portray MacReady as some guy who's ready for action, but rather merely just kinda a tired guy doing a pretty standard job. You can feel MacReady's time on the isolated base just in Russell's eyes and his manner that time in a frost bitten land with only the same exact people to communicate with have certainly worn on MacReady.
The minutia of the life on the base though takes an odd turn when they discover some truly odd things after investigating two Norwegian men who died trying to kill a dog that ran to the American base. The film focuses at first on the men trying to make sense of the odd occurrence by visiting the desolated Norwegian base. Russell is perhaps the best of the actors in the film in terms of just simply portraying the reaction to the, at first eerie things he sees. Russell does some great work in just conveying the quiet unease in MacReady as he looks over the destruction of the base, and Russell very much grips the film in a reality as his reactions are only as such. Of course the signs stop when the alien itself rears its head in the form of a mutating dog that tries to infect the other dogs in the base's kettle. Well there was potential for the film to go into absurdest territory because although the visual effects are remarkable they're not exactly the most subtle depictions of a creature. Pretty much the entire cast does a fantastic job of grounding these scenes by simply playing the fear as how an normal person would react to seeing such things.
As the threat grows the men deal with the situation in different ways, and Russell is does well to create MacReady's dynamic with the other men. That being he does not have too much of one really. Russell creates a certain distance in the scenes together with the other men as Russell suggests not a hint of camaraderie. It is not that he is actively unlikable, but rather Russell portrays MacReady's attitude as that of the loner that keeps him from having no particular connection with the other men. Russell by having this certain coldness does well to set up MacReady as the leader for the crisis. This seems like an odd idea that the man who isolates himself further from the men to be the one in charge of the group, but it ends up making sense because MacReady's distance allows him to be the only one who can do what is needed. What is needed is a dispassionate view in terms of trust since MacReady does not trust anyone especially in particular he will not give anyone the benefit of the doubt. Russell is very convincing in creating the idea that MacReady's able to control the situation, as much as he can, by giving such intensity to MacReady's individual will to survive.
Now because of that we are given a few moments where MacReady does kinda get to be the hero of the film since he is always the one taking down the alien after every trick that it pulls. Russell does not compromise his character at any point even though MacReady ends up being a bit of a bad ass, but hey he can't help it. Well in that respect Russell is best described as being sorta awesome in the role by bringing such conviction to certain lines of his such as "Now I'll show you what I already know" when referring the confidence he has in his blood test, or the determination in "We're not gettin' outta here alive. But neither is that Thing", and of course his line just before blowing up a massive version of the creature. Russell delivers them all with absolute precision yet he makes these moments come naturally from the character. They never feel out of place and fit the character he created. Russell as well though never lightens the situation in these moments though because it is not that of a relaxed cool in how MacReady deals with the monster, but rather Russell always still portrays a sense of desperation in the man.
Russell excels particularly well in portraying MacReady's physical and mental degradation throughout the film. Russell expresses well the decay in MacReady through the film since he never gets any sleep and is only worn away even more by the cold. Russell though is also particularly effective though in also depicting the growing paranoia in MacReady as well as his realization and acceptance of his death as long as it means the death of the creature. Russell is terrific by carefully growing the sense of distress in MacReady as the situation only becomes worse throughout the story. There is one scene where MacReady leaves a tape recording to warn any future visitors to the site. Russell infusing the scene with a surprising amount of poignancy by so honestly delivering the repressed fear and despair that is in MacReady. Russell gives a strong performance here as he manages to amplify the horror of the situation by only offering genuine responses to the creature. Russell nicely offers the mild comfort of the film by making MacReady a compelling lead, and always keeps the character of R.J. MacReady firmly as a resilient but still flawed man.