Warren Oates did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Bennie in Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.
Now something already intriguing about the film is casting an actor like Warren Oates in the lead of the film. Oates is of course an incredibly reliable character actor, and just one of those guys who you can sense a story through their performance even if they don't have a lot of screentime. I love seeing when such an actor gets their chance to take on a leading role, and see how they can explore a role when they aren't technically working in the margins of a story. Oates's casting is further fascinating in that it seems to set a different type of tone for the film right from the outset when we see him working in his bar in Mexico, which is visited by two hitmen looking for the titular man. If this was Steve McQueen, or say a William Holden, and this nothing against those two actors I like very much, the viewer would likely immediately take to this "hero" for us to follow, as you'd just assume they'd have to be lovable rogues. When we see Bennie played by Oates, that's not the case, though I have to admit I love simply the look of Oates as Bennie, but I digress. Oates's unique presence offers something very different there which is a most unpredictable protagonist for us to follow throughout the film.
Oates's whole approach makes Bennie feel right within the rundown atmosphere of the bar. Oates carries that harshness of a man who has obviously been through some things being an army veteran, yet there is almost a levity within this that alludes to the man seemingly stuck in a definite aimlessness. Bennie more or less accepts the job of recovering Garcia, initially in a way that Oates portrays with a proper "why not" as he exudes this casual air of not quite a despair, yet an understanding of his situation. This becomes more complicated, but also simpler in a way when he gets more information from his girlfriend Elita (Isela Vega). It's more complicated because he learns that Elita was also having an affair with Alfredo, but simpler because he learns that Alfredo already died in a car accident. Now Oates's portrayal of Bennie's relationship with Elita is something truly fascinating as he creates such a striking realization of Bennie basically drifting even with her. He portrays any sense of betrayal with this delay of a man detached through experience, he does lash out at her for this eventually yet even this Oates depicts as a painful delay of the man's messy mind. Oates makes his anger real, yet instinctual in the moment, as though his wavering mind has fallen where it should be for a moment.
Now despite the infidelity the two decide to set off to get the bounty for Alfredo since they only need the head of the dead man. Oates is terrific though in making his acceptance of Elita in a way quite fascinating and surprisingly affecting. There is a moment before their journey really begins with where Oates so tenderly portrays just the genuine love Bennie has for Elita. Oates's performance again is so terrific how he even acts so effectively through sunglasses. Yet Oates through just a bit of cracking in his voice, and waver in his mouth reveals that vulnerability Bennie has with Elita that shows how much he does care for her. Unfortunately their journey gets off to a poor start when they accosted by two bikers who plan to rape Elita where again the unpredictability about Oates's performance makes the scene particularly remarkable. Obviously a Steve McQueen would of course save the day, but with Oates that is not a guarantee. Oates utilizes this in the moment as he portrays such an internalized anguish in his physical tension as he sits there, yet there is almost a potential consignment that makes the moment particularly unnerving. Again though Oates shows less a hero gaining his confidence, but rather depicts the shaken man coming to the right thought that allows him to take his action. What follows though is not a typical badass, rather the scene is particularly notable given Oates atypical approach that isn't as a hero, but rather a truly desperate man committing this act of violence.
Bennie and Elita eventually reach the village where Alfredo is buried, though Elita has more than a few second thoughts of desecrating the grave of her former lover. Bennie is not as concerned and Oates again is great in so well realizing the particularly mindset that is going on with Bennie in the moment. As always he Oates suggests the man who isn't thinking clearly as he keeps that certain detachment in the moment but I love the way Oates inserts the moments of such genuine emotion in there at times. It's purposefully messy though in natural way as he reveals Bennie in one moment attempting to justify himself though there is more the sense of that urge towards the greed involved with the head. When he says he'll put the grave back together as it was though in that delivery Oates is wholly sincere in showing Bennie's concern for his girlfriend, and he even takes a moment in revealing more than a bit guilt for his actions. This subsides for him to continue with his task, again though Oates doesn't make this a switch. He instead so effectively portrays this as more of a flow of Bennie's mind, in that even in the same moment he wants the money, and wants to do right by Elita, and it is all logical in the moment. Bennie though is attacked and buried in the grave instead waking up in a shocking scene where he discovers a murdered Elita next to him in the grave.
Oates is downright amazing in the moment of discovering as he not only reveals the terrible anguish in Bennie in every one of his wails, but also depicts essentially a man breaking the rest of the way through this anguish. After this scene Oates's performance takes Bennie to this different state of mind altogether and it is astonishing to watch. From this point on Oates essentially shows that Bennie has basically gone off the deep end, yet the task of collecting the money for the head of Alfredo keeps him together to at least some degree. What Oates realizes is this sort of stream of consciousness in everything about him, as Oates makes Bennie not a man on the edge but far past it. In every moment of the final act Oates is in this extraordinarily compelling portrayal of Bennie's state of mind. As he goes about his task still Bennie begins to speak to Alfredo as though he is on the car ride with him. Oates is brilliant in the way he rambles in these that allude to the emotional madness of the man as he attempts to reason himself to complete his task despite that horrific grief that Oates holds as an undercurrent to this insanity. Oates is downright amazing as in these scenes he is what would be in most films the cool badass taking down the bad men by shooting them one by one. Now indeed that is what Bennie is doing as he continues to kill everyone as he brings Alfredo to his destination. In every one of these moments Oates paints a man at his most extreme margins, as he keeps Bennie at this state of sheer dementia as he prods himself to keep killing. What is so remarkable in this is again how emotional Oates makes this in creating how the randomness of the emotions are flowing through Bennie, as Oates shows that grief at times, that callousness at others, or just a sheer moment of glee such in his exuberant yet aching delivery of "because it feels so good" after killing a man. When Bennie reaches his destination it is only logical to Bennie's illogical state that Oates has so convincingly realized that he'd take the money then proceed to kill the man and his men who hired him for not paying enough respect to the head that led to the deaths of so many. I love this performance as again in that moment Oates is so mesmerizing to watch as he brings that viciousness to the killing yet makes it so heartbreaking in its own way as he has shown how this man has gotten to this place. This is an outstanding performance by Warren Oates as he crafts such a lurid and unique portrait of a man falling right off the brink of his own mind.