James Spader did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite winning Cannes, for portraying Graham Dalton in Sex, Lies, and Videotape.
James Spader plays Graham the old friend of seemingly successful lawyer John (Peter Gallagher) who is in a cold marriage with his wife Ann (Andie MacDowell) as well is in an affair with Ann's sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). Graham shows up to stay with John and his wife until he finds his own apartment, and from his first scene it appears there is something about Graham, although whatever that something is has yet to be revealed. Spader plays the part in a rather clever fashion. He keeps his disposition actually rather meek as the way he talks, interactions with other, even smiles are all quite unassuming. Graham though actually is constantly giving prodding questions to further find out about Ann. What's interesting about this though is Spader actually allows for Graham's rather incisive questions and statements he will make, as he just seems so innocently intrigued by their lives, so there does not seem to be any danger to give out all this personal information to him.
Soon enough Graham seems a bit less innocent when Ann stumbles upon his personal collection of videotapes. The videotapes being a collection of women telling him about their sexual experiences, which he in turn uses for his own pleasure. Although Ann is repulsed at first, she does not stay repulsed for too long, nor does it keep Ann's lusty sister from also going to seek out Graham. In this section of his character Spader calls upon what he's perhaps best known for, which is his particular form of charisma. Spader's charm though is not at all what you think of when you think of the word charm. Spader does have this certain sleazy quality about his performances, not that the way Graham acts is overtly sleazy per se, otherwise than his personal hobby, but Spader's style though does not try to gloss over anything about the man. What's so remarkable about what Spader does though is actually make this oddly appealing. Spader is able to conduct himself in just that certain way where there's no false facade, but instead creates something quite alluring about Graham being exactly as he is.
The film really is about all four of the characters Graham just happens to be the one who propels the story to go forward through his presence effecting the others. For much of the film Graham is kept as a bit of an enigma which seems to hold a certain sway with Ann and Cynthia which in turn only causes frustration for John. Spader strikes up a somewhat peculiar though a rather effective sort of chemistry with Giacomo and MacDowell. With Giacomo, who plays Cynthia as woman who does not do a whole lot to hide her urges as well is rather encouraging to the men in her life, Spader presents Graham playing right into her urges with his quiet yet rather powerful persuasion through his words and face. With MacDowell, who plays Ann as rather sexually repressed to the point that she espouses constantly her supposed lack of interest in the activity, it is all a bit more complicated. Spader in their scenes together suggests how Graham could get under her skin because of the way he realizes the humble manner towards certain discussions that she can't help but be a bit captivated by him.
Graham's mystery though does not remain forever as Ann manages to actually break his particular sort of reserve by her own questions. Spader's performance actually does not change excessively so though as Graham reveals what brought on his unusual behavior to her. Spader though is terrific though because he does not suddenly have Graham break down as being such a reserved guy to begin with that would not quite seem right. Spader shows that Graham still has this certain barrier simply within his low key demeanor, but that does not mean Graham is truly an unemotional man. What's so special is that Spader within the confines does convey the pain in Graham's past that motivates him currently. There is a moving sadness that Spader reveals in Graham as he finally does open up to her. Spader even keeps this reserve in the scene where John rubs salt into Graham's metaphorical wounds, and Graham goes about trashing his prized tapes. Again though Spader makes this feel right for the character as he naturally portrays the disgust in Graham. The film wraps up relatively quickly yet Spader manages to give a satisfying conclusion to his character by presenting him as almost the same man though without quite same the mystic, but also without the lies.