Donald Sutherland did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a BAFTA, for portraying John Baxter in Don't Look Now.
Well once again returning to Donald Sutherland in a leading role and once again curiously dealing with a role in which his character is dealing with the death of his child due to drowning. Sutherland, despite his character dealing with a very similar tragedy as his work in Ordinary People, did not simply give a repetition of this performance in that later film. A pivotal reason for this is where we come into the tragedy. In Ordinary People much time has past and the focus is upon dealing with this surviving son. That's not the intention of Don't Look Now as the film opens with drowning where Sutherland's John Baxter senses something is wrong, but fails to rescue his daughter in time. Now that scene alone is a harrowing moment in Sutherland's performance as he reflects the intensity and rawness of grief first realized. The film though then switches to the couple in Vienna a short time later where John is working to help restore an old Church.
Sutherland's approach in the succeeding scenes is particularly effective in the way he presents the grief of John. Sutherland often times on the most exterior surface of his performance will deliver his lines as though there is nothing wrong, and when doing his work in particular Sutherland offers a man attempting to go forward with his life. What makes this remarkable though is the way Sutherland in no way hides the grief in that he is able to portray a man trying to get along with life best he can. Of course Sutherland does show that is not really the truth in his own performance. That intensity even found in the first scene, though no longer overt is still apparent as Sutherland instead internalizes as part of what John is. Although Sutherland does not always direct the sorrow, the sorrow is always apparent. Sutherland shows that John does not wear it particularly well. John does not say what is wrong, even tries to act like there isn't anything wrong at times, but Sutherland keeps that loss alive within his performance even when it is not focused upon.
Sutherland shows that John is acting as though he is attempting move on in some way which is against his wife Laura (Julie Christie) who becomes easily fascinated when a blind woman who claims to be able to see their a daughter. Sutherland excels in these moments as he finds the right complexity within John's state and further shows that it is less a state of attempting to move on but rather a state of denial. The way Sutherland works this is very natural in it difficulty, in that he even makes John's occasional humorous moments a little difficult to take as there is still this innate sadness in even these moments. When he is forced to more directly relive this tragedy due to the "psychic's" communications with his wife. Sutherland is excellent in his realization of the man's pain through the mix of emotion he shows. There's the moment where he tries to move his wife past it and in that moment Sutherland brings that attempt to sort of close himself off from the problem. When she keeps engaging with the blind woman though Sutherland grants a passive aggression in his performance suggesting an anger in John at being reminded of his loss so directly.
In this we also see John's relationship with his wife. Sutherland and Christie are interesting together as they bring this right sort of detached chemistry. In that the two do suggest there was a clear loving relationship between the two as there are a few moments of warmth of two old lovers, as well as that sex scene, which seems even more famous than the film itself, and there's a reason for that. In those moments though they bring the right connection at times, but so often that is not their relationship. At the other times, particularly when Laura listens to the medium, they do well to provide that contrast in view and reaction to their mutual loss. They in turn manage to effectively realize that towards their interactions which are not always loving. The regrets and problems stemming from their loss particularly on Sutherland's end when his delivery or reaction can often be short if not wholly cold towards Christie. Sutherland again excels so much in terms of truly defining the way the grief defines John's state in the film. Sutherland's brilliant because he gives that man who is trying so hard to keep it together yet this only results in a certain self-inflicted torture.
Of course Don't Look Know is a horror film, and Sutherland's work is also essential to the film's success in this regard, as he becomes the sole lead for the last third of the film after Christie's Laura apparently goes home to England. John though believes he sees her still in Venice attending a funeral, and he goes off to try to find her. Now the pivotal part of Sutherland's performance is that he does not allow these scenes not to only be a showcase for Nicholas Roeg's atmospheric direction. Sutherland is never lost within these scenes and is particularly moving in portraying the intensity of fear in John as he searches for her. The unease and anxiety is palatable through Sutherland as he helps create this sense of dread through his honesty of his performance. Sutherland also plays the role as a man truly going through these strange events which makes these scenes all the more off-putting. Sutherland internalizes the instability of being in the strange place and that haunted quality as John struggles to find an answer to his question. Sutherland never forgets the crux of his character which is the loss of his daughter, which becomes all the more prevalent as John keeps seeing a strange figure in the same rain coat that his daughter died in. Sutherland portrays the unexpressed sorrow revealing itself as he looks upon the figure, and is heart wrenching by gradually revealing the extent of his suffering as John attempts to learn the nature of figure. Donald Sutherland's work here is key to the success of the film which slowly gets under your skin. Sutherland is never in a "genre" film so to speak. He gives an intimate and powerfully honest performance that makes the horror within the film all the more chilling.