John Garfield did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Joe Morse in Force of Evil.
Force of Evil is notable as a film noir as the protagonist is amorally bent from the opening of the film. He is not the wrong man who gets into a plot nor the sap who is corrupted by some other force. The character of Joe Morse rather is comfortable in his place as a lawyer for the equally corrupt men involved with the numbers racket. In this role is John Garfield, an actor who had a notable intensity for his period in particular however I personally don't feel he always utilized it properly. This is actually a performance that doesn't play into that idea, at least not in a more traditional way. Garfield isn't the angry young man he often played, but rather a cold calculating man. This is interesting to see, and honestly seems to play towards his strength as his performances often become rather unwieldy when he goes for a more overt intensity. He still has an intensity here to be sure however he rearranges it to be far more internalized which works for the nature of Joe Morse's character. Garfield presents a man defined very much by his moral state which is almost in this certain separation from the moment.
Garfield's performance portrays a man essentially organized in this context of lacking nearly any concern for general decency, however not actively sadistic in this sense. Garfield offers this smooth delivery of a man very much presenting himself as this proper slick lawyer however this is subverted through the context of his work which is typically duplicitous in some way. Although distant this approach is actually rather effective in creating the sense of the style of Joe Morse's character and how he thrives within the underworld. He portrays this exact manner of his conviction in his dealing with the other nasty men of the other world. This is through the calm that Garfield brings along without an exact overt emotion in these interactions. He instead consistently emphasizes Joe's ability to detach himself from the dirty work of it all, and more of treat as though it is merely what is his duty as a lawyer should be. This could be alienating potentially however the approach works for the role particularly in terms of establishing what will be his arc throughout the film, which is strictly connected to his brother Leo (Thomas Gomez).
The relationship with his brother is central to the film overall as it is where the sense of any morality lies. This in itself is a bit more complex than one might expect given that Leo is also in the same world though as a smaller time crook in the underworld. Leo even in his more obviously criminal position is in a sense the conscience as he pushes back against Joe's methods that pull both deeper in. Garfield is very good in his interactions with Gomez though by delivering the right nuance within Joe's cold facade. In these moments Garfield doesn't break his overarching calm approach, but does grant tiny hints in his reactions towards him suggesting just the faintest hint of a struggle in Joe as Leo challenges him. This slightly other side is also shown within his relationship with one of Leo's secretaries Doris. Again Garfield does not fall onto any habits of his other performances to portray this keeping his performance true to the cold man Joe is for the most part. He again though just ever so slightly eases away that cold demeanor to reveal just hints of charm, and a more outgoing spirit. Again what is notable about it is how consistent Garfield is. He shows enough to hint the potential for change, yet still keeps the character firmly within his personal manner defined by amorality overall. The ending actually doesn't take Joe as far from this as one might expect for a noir, which were required to be moralizing in some way. The situations again push Joe out of his comfort yet Garfield does not depict an extreme change. This approach does work though in again keeping a more understated reactions towards the upheaval around him. He shows a loss of a bit of the calm, yet still shows the man's attempt to hold control as consistent even as his plans falls apart around him. This is a good performance by Garfield as he avoids the typical pitfalls of his performances, while still utilizing his talents to deliver an atypical yet intriguing protagonist to lead this noir.