Nicholas Hoult did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Nux in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Fury Road as a cinematic accomplishment has received a great deal of praise though if you ask me, not enough! Often a criticism lobbed at the film is the simplicity of its plot, of course this often comes from the same people who complain about films which plots are too complex. The film in a way is cinema incarnate in that it's visual storytelling is only possible with film. There is an abundance of depth found within its imagery, and the well chosen words that are spoken in the film. It is not only within the way every character and object seems uniquely crafted in terms of appearance to already allude to a history, but the film's ensemble as a whole only furthers this. There is often a bit of a snobbery towards action film's acting, as though if its good it's good for an action movie, but really if its good for any film. Now actually I think almost every performance has a bit of something to offer in this film, the one I'm focusing on here perhaps gambled the most of all. Now nothing should be taken for granted from the excellent internalized performances of Theron and Hardy, there are also several extroverted performances in the film, but none are given more focus than Nicholas Hoult's turn as Nux. He is one of Immortan Joe's warboys, who are basically his cannon fodder for any fight, but they worship him as their god.
Nux is the warboy we follow through this delusion. We are first introduced to him as he lays dying due to his cancer, which all the warboys are suffering from, only finding sustenance through the use of a human blood bank, which happens to be Max. Hoult is an unlit match until he hears that Immortan is going after Furiosa who has driven off with Immortan's wives, and a war party is being made to go after that. Nux's spark returns at hearing the chance to die on the Fury Road and Hoult's performance is burning red hot with life. To describe Hoult's performance as energetic would seem to be undercutting it a bit, this is more than that, this is a super nova of excitement as Hoult presents Nux as a man who is indeed living every second as any second may be his last. Although he is playing a man who is willing to give his life at a moments notice, there is nothing dour about this in Hoult's hands. The intensity is that of someone driven by a desire not for greatness in this world but rather the next. There is no time to think about this world if he's going to make it to the next as shown through Hoult's beautifully rendered mania. As when the sky runs red with blood and destruction there is but great glee in Hoult's expression and voice as he utters those immortal lines "What a day! What a Lovely Day!", as it could be nothing else for Nux.
This performance is almost magical in how perfectly Hoult captures the madness of man enraptured into a warrior cult. Though there is a sort of indirect humor that is a result of this, what's so remarkable is how pure Hoult makes this mentality of Nux. When Immortan Joe just by chance glances his way, Hoult reaction is sheer brilliance as he suggests that Nux was truly just noticed by his Lord and Savior. A whole life being raised in this belief is evidenced in Hoult's unending passion that he carries in any moment especially when a possible glorious death is possible. When a fellow warrior is sure to die, though might just have enough energy for a suicide attack against his enemies, Hoult is downright inspirational in that empathy he projects, wanting to his fellow warboy succeed in his final moments. There is an absolute zealous delight in his eyes when he witnesses the man's demise. Hoult makes Nux a man captured in a complete hysteria in order to earn his place in Valhalla. The climatic moment of this comes when he is addressed directly by Immortan and even given an chance to earn a personal journey with his god. As Immortan blesses Nux with a ceremonial spray of chrome paint. Hoult is outstanding in realizing a man whose achieved his purpose in life through his face which is filled with a true euphoria, so powerful that he even sheds a tear of joy.
Nux fails, quite hilariously actually, yet what's so fascinating is that Nux's dreams of grandeur at this point have been made more than just a joke by Hoult's performance. In fact Nux would have already been one of the all time great henchmen, but there's more to him than that. When he is found as a stowaway, on the war rig commandeered by Max and Furiosa, by one of the wives, Capable (Riley Keough), Hoult is actually rather moving. It is a broken man that Nux has become, and there is such a tremendous despair that Hoult shows, a man who has failed his god, and failed his last attempt to achieve his life long dream of another life through death. Yet there is something wonderful in the tenderness of the moment as Capable listens to Nux, and Hoult presents Nux's eyes slowly being opened to a world that was not created by an old man in an oxygen mask. Hoult's transition is less of reformation of Nux and rather a broadening of his world view. As he helps the runaways, Hoult still brings that enthusiasm, not muted, but changed. No longer narrowed by a single viewpoint, as well as brings rather a calmer happiness, as Nux is finally enjoying what there is in this world rather than merely what might await him in the next.
Hoult tempers his performance brilliantly as he gradually escapes the grip of Immortan's religious sway. What's so special is that this is never said, it does not need to be said, Hoult finds the rediscovery of life all in the margins, some of it which comes from the graceful relationship with Capable which becomes surprisingly poignant despite being quite brief. It is incredible as Hoult does not lose his footing in the last act of Nux's story, despite already having been such an entertaining and engaging enemy, and even manages to bring the character full circle in a most unusual way. In the end Nux once again sees something special in death by the end, but it is all in Hoult's portrayal of this that finds the difference. Hoult's eyes are not that of the fervent fanatic, but instead that of just a man who is trying to make a difference with the life he has for the people he loves. His final somber delivery of "witness me" is heartbreaking as it is no longer looking to see that he is noticed for the afterlife, but rather that he will be remembered by those for doing something meaningful with his life. Now I must admit when I was originally asked for my thoughts on the film and its performances, I was going to give some quick thoughts on Hoult, but as I wrote I knew that was not enough. This was a performance that deserved to be examined on the Fury Road, I mean in a full review, since it needs to witnessed, as Hoult earned his place within the gates of Valhalla.