Forest Whitaker is one bad mofo. He's the ghost dog. He's the Maddog. He's the Bulldozer. Maybe it's the lazy eye, maybe it's the brilliant instincts as a thespian but he kinda scares the Cinecultist and we like it. Now, he's back on screen in The Last King of Scotland as one really freaky dictator, Uganda's Idi Amin and it's a performance that can only be called a tour de force.
James McAvoy plays Nicholas, a young Scottish doctor who escapes his uptight family for adventure in Africa. This is a guy who doesn't think twice about stopping his journey to bed a cute girl he meets on the bus, so from the start we know he has poor impulse control. A few months into his village gig, Nicholas attends a rally for the new president with a coworker (a lovely, under-utilized Gillian Anderson) and finds himself in thrall of the massive leader. A chance meeting with Amin leads to Nicholas becoming his personal doctor and quickly becomes embroiled in Amin's administration.
If you know even a little bit about history, you can probably figure out that things get much, much worse for Nicholas at this point. Amin's crazy yo and it doesn't take long to figure it out. But Whitaker does an amazing job of making him oddly sympathetic, or at least charming and intriguing. Though, that meat hook scene at the airport (don't ask) is not something we want to ever have to watch again. Actually, we didn't really watch it the first time, as Cinecultist had to scooch down in our chair and cover our eyes. Icky.
This movie though is more than just Whitaker's amazing performance. Director Kevin MacDonald and screenwriter Jeremy Brock bring up complex themes about race and colonialism, shading our supposed protagonist with suspect behavior. No one in this film gets to come off entirely as a hero or a villain and it makes for a bracingly realistic movie. In a season where the movie theaters are just starting to fill up with must see movies (wait until CC starts raving full force on the NYFF Friday), don't let The Last King of Scotland pass you by.
We also wrote a review for Radar, if you find such things of note.Posted by karen at September 27, 2006 11:36 PM