Paul Newman did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Lew Harper in Harper.
Paul Newman plays the role of the largely detached detective, honestly most detective stories are helped by a larger degree of personal connection. This is not that case as it is largely a procedural of uncovering one part of a conspiracy after another. Newman plays our hero of Lew Harper, who we see as a slightly hapless sort essentially from an opening scene where he reuses old coffee ground in his disheveled office. Newman really making the most out of that scene just in his less than enthused reaction to the coffee he's made somewhat questionably. After this point is essentially Newman doing his best approach to the detective, who is largely driven to solve the mystery though does do it in a fairly unique way. Newman brings of course a certain definite charm here as is usually the case for him, though he doesn't overly emphasize it here actually. He actually plays Harper with a generally sort of wry and often sardonic manner. This with certain shrugs at certain news and eye glances of disbelief when hearing about the various ins and outs of all those he encounters. Newman portraying all of these interactions as though he really doesn't take any of them that seriously in the sense that as the detective he must second guess every one. Newman creating sort of the false sense of incompetence as though Harper doesn't care at all, though in his eyes there he emphasizes the method within that he does make his moves. Newman playing well though into sort of the joking way that successfully suggests Harper's way of both disarming each person while also prying in his own way.
The procedure in this mystery doesn't have too much of real personal stakes, there is a slight friendship angle with one of the suspects but even that doesn't amount to much. Outside of the main story though we do get moments of Harper dealing with the fact that his wife (Janet Leigh) is divorcing him. These are small moments however effectively played as the bit of entirely earnest work in Newman's portrayal when other ask abut it. His quiet frustrations are well played as one thing Harper isn't going to joke about to others about. Although this is in contrast to his scene of trying to win his wife back by calling her with a obviously fake crank call. Newman's delightful in this scene in bringing the right flirtations playfulness in the moment and all the moments of speaking to Leigh. Newman shows in these moments both how he probably won her over but also how he lost her as he still doesn't quite take it seriously enough. These are good moments but only really brief moments outside of the main narrative. The main narrative that takes Newman through the various expected detective tropes, false leads, incompetent law enforcers, double crosses, and of course suspects denying their true motivations. Newman maneuvers these scenes effectively with the sardonic charm here. It doesn't add up to too much mainly as Harper has limited connection really to the case. Even in his one major personal moment at the end of the film, Newman's delivering still is a sardonic brush off, it works in his character, but just shows the limitation here. The case really though is simply never *that* compelling. Newman though makes it more compelling than it would be otherwise through his reliable performance. Newman though does best when he has more material to really sink his teeth in. When he's coasting he can be good, which he is here, but just good. This stands as a more than decent straight forward detective performance, and stands as a more than decent Newman turn, though it isn't too remarkable in either category.