Screengrab: Forest Whitaker and Talent



RICHARD LUTZ has the lowdown on the highlights of which movies to see on tv this week.

I write this deep in the depths of a (warm) Alba north of the English border, land of Hebridean beaches, haggis-flavoured pakoras, Rangers football and, well, Scottishness.

So I might as well point you to the most watchable film of the schedules, The Last King of Scotland (Thurs; Film4; 23.00).

The director is Scots (Kevin MacDonald); one of the stars is Scottish (James McAvoy), the main charactor (Forest Whitaker in a brilliant take on psychotic despot Idi Amin) thinks he should be ruler of the place (as in The Last King etc…) and, well, overall, it is a hugely entertaining  thriller with a couple of good plot turns that keeps you engaged if not gripping the seat.

The 2006 effort is a fictional story about how a young idealistic doctor in Uganda (McAvoy) slowly becomes part of Amin’s crazed inner circle and then ultimately finds he cannot escape.

But on top of the good story and fine portrayals by McAvoy and ex X File star Gillian Anderson, it is Forest Whitaker as the madman tyrant that takes the cake. Or in this specific case, the Oscar which he won for this role.

Whitaker is a bulky beguiling man who, since his break-out role as jazzman Charlie Parker in Clint Eastwood’s Bird (1988), always finds seductive roles to play…roles that illustrate an engaging hesitancy, a playful quirkiness (except for this Amin gig, of course).

In the movie Smoke, he was the  guilt-ridden father who abandons a son; In The Crying Game, he is the a vulnerable IRA kidnap victim; In Good Morning, Vietnam he’s the hapless sidekick to Robin Williams; in the aforesaid Bird, he’s the haunted junkie sax player; and, on a lighter level, he provides the voice for a TV cartoon charactor in American Dad. He knows how to pick the interesting men he portrays.

Whitaker actually is a trained opera singer and I really take my hat off to anyone who can pay the rent for more than 30 years by being an actor – a black actor in Hollywood – without having to continually grab a pay cheque for the gamut of bad guy/slick sidekick roles that must plague many US talented Afro-Americans.

He plays Idi Amin perfectly, so perfect that in one scene being shot in Uganda, villagers thought Whitaker was the former despot who had actually died 3 years before filming began.

His latest role will be as US general Colin Powell – another intriguing character who had to carry the military can for the inane George W, Bush during the Iraq and Afghani invasions and who refused to even consider standing for president. Another role that’ll add to  Whitaker’s burgeoning porfolio of intriguing men.

So, The Last King of Scotland, even with its Scots roots, is really a Forest Whitaker movie. He gives Amin the creepiest scintilla of sympathy rather than acting as an out and out murderous buffoon. You almost like the tyrant. And that makes for great acting.