This week, I finally got around to watching The Last King of Scotland, which depicts the early days of Ugandan dicator Idi Amin’s regime, as seen through the eyes of a young doctor from Scotland. As pretty much everyone in the world knows, Forest Whitaker very deservedly won the Oscar for best actor last year for his performance as Amin. I first saw him in A Soldier’s Play in Boston in the early 80s (he didn’t make it into the 1984 film version, A Soldier’s Story). Even though I must have been only about 8 or 9 years old, I remember being very touched by his subtle, gentle performance, and I have always been happy to catch glimpses of him through the years in far too few and brief film roles. His teddy-bear roles have become his stock in trade, which was why I was so blown away by the brutal power of his performance in this film, even though I had read numerous reviews raving about exactly that. The best nuance of his performance was his laugh–he laughed with his whole body, not in a jolly way, but also not in an especially menacing way. It perfectly conveyed the manic charisma and quick-change temper of an upstart dictator. I watched the DVD “making-of” featurette interview with him, and he seemed a bit startled that he was able to pull this sort of performance out of himself. With the new confidence and the Major Award under his belt, I’ll be excited to see what he accomplishes next.

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