I always knew Forest Whitaker was a good actor.
From the first time I saw him in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" through his work as Lt. Kavanaugh on "The Shield," Whitaker has always been a solid and interesting performer.
But I didn't know he was a great actor until "The Last King of Scotland."
In this film from FOX Searchlight, Whitaker plays the sometimes charming, sometimes caring, sometimes hilarious and ultimately brutal Ugandan president Idi Amin.
His performance is captivating.
When we first meet Amin, he's just completed a military coup to become the African nation's leader. There is celebrating in the streets, because the word is he's a man of the people and there's hope for the future.
During his victory tour, he injures his hand and meets Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, play by James McAvoy, a young doctor who fled his fate of going into the family physician business with his stern and cold father in Scotland.
He and Amin hit it off, and soon he's in the employ of the new president of Uganda as his personal doctor.
Whitaker's Amin is so magnanimous it's easy to see how the Scot was convinced to take this post, and he soon finds himself with unique access to power and privilege. But over time, he sees that the job is a life sentence in the service of a brutal and terrifying dictator.
Amin is at once powerful and paranoid, and his life has Shakespearean tragic qualities rivaling Othello, King Lear and Macbeth all in one.
Directed by documentary filmmaker Kevin McDonald from a Jeremy Brock script adapted from Giles Noden's novel, the film takes on the gritty feel of a documentary film, and cleverly uses real footage of Amin that matches the movie's tones and grains.
McAvoy's Garrigan is also a terrific performance, as his character goes from glee over living in a presidential palace as the "closest adviser" to the country's most powerful man to the knowledge that his life is about to come to a tortuous and painful end.
Gillian Anderson of "The X-Files" has a small role as the wife of a British doctor who runs a hospital in one of Uganda's villages, and Kerry Washington plays one of Amin's gorgeous wives who has an affair with Garrigan, sparking a disastrous love (or should I say hate?) triangle.
Keeping It Reel? "The Last King of Scotland" is a movie that anyone who loves acting should indulge in, but it is a hard movie to watch, particularly the scenes of murder and torture that shocked the world during Amin's time of power.
Another reason to see it? I'd bet Whitaker finds himself with a plethora of award nominations come winter.
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