Jason Butler Harner did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Gordon Stewart Northcott in Changeling.
One tragedy is of Christine Collins's son disappearing. Instead of finding help from law enforcement of the L.A. police department she is instead first ignored, then manipulated, then threatened and abused by them. That tragedy is in part a result of the sadly even darker tragedy underneath that one which brings us to Jason Butler Harner. Harner appears fairly late in the film as the film introduces that this is in part the story of a vicious serial killer who specializes in abducting then killing young boys, one of the abducted boys being Christine's son. We are only given a few glimpses of Harner before the end of the film. This leaves a certain challenge for him in part to make the needed impact given the character is purposefully left as a footnote to Christine's story, understandably so given how grim his story is. The strict perspective into the man is more than enough though given the impact of even only learning part of it as well as due to Harner's performance. Now we are given somewhat the expected from Harner, which is no way anything to sniff at, which is his portrayal of the absolutely horrifying intensity in the brief glimpses of the chicken coop murders. These only last a few seconds but Harner's portrayal of these moments of an atrocity are chilling. There is no respite for a moment just this direct uncompromising evil that Harner portrays as a man behaving on these extreme base instincts.
Outside of those moments though we have more of Harner which I think is what makes this a truly outstanding work from him as he finds a very distinct and particularly disturbing approach to the depiction of a serial killer. Harner is especially effective in these moments, of sort of a flamboyance within the character as written that I think a lesser performance might have used to turn him into a more sort of obvious villain. Harner's work instead uses these moments as terrifying insight into the diseased mind of the man. In that Harner portrays this certain stunted manner as though Northcott is sort of a child in mind himself. He doesn't over do it as to be some sterotypical creepy kid, he just slightly finds this particularly off-putting petulance that is grotesque yet feels very human in the way Harner portrays it. He manages to realize this in a honestly humanizing way as he successfully realizes this awful manner is fitting to this maniac. Harner's approach not only leaves a striking impression it also changes the context somewhat of his final scenes, which technically could have been the simple disposal of a monster. When Christine comes to see him to ask about her son, to whom Northcott refuses to admit killing based on his claim of finding religion therefore redemption. The way Harner delivers this is not as a gloating villain, it is of a messy insanity yet there is something very earnest as he states this horrible retraction. When Christine presses him Harner again is particularly unnerving by basing on this malformed child's responses, even in almost this pseudo attempt to scare Christine by trying to kiss her, it is this momentary juvenile act with the certain shyness Harner brings even within the derangement. When she states she hopes he goes to hell, again Harner by offering that genuine presentation of the character's state it is haunting as he shows in his reaction this real fear in even this terrible killer's eyes. This is expanded to even greater heights in Northcott's execution scene. Harner, despite the character's actions, makes the scene absolutely harrowing to witness. Harner depicts every moment with such vividness from the beginning where there is this pained attempt to find solace in the moment as he speaks his final words and looks to his priest for comfort. He is then is strangely heartbreaking as he moved towards the noose with his delivery of "please don't make me walk so fast". Harner again captures this broken mind and says this almost as a child not wanting to do something, though obviously with the severity of the given situation. Then when placed beneath the noose Harner unleashes just this mania of every kind as we see the killer, but also this man trying anything to get his mind away from his reality before he is killed. He is astonishing throughout the scene. This is a great performance that fully realizes the state of the man, even within the margins of the film, and is especially remarkable as he finds a very distinct, disturbing and powerful approach to a well worn type of role.