Last King of Scotland - Right Award, Wrong Actor

20th Century Fox
Duration: 123min
Category: drama
Available: On DVD
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Look at the Oscar winners for Best Actor for the past couple years. The winners have played real life characters who, in real life, were over the top caricatures. Both Jamie Foxx in Ray and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote got past mimicking their subjects and created a portrait of a human individual underneath. This is why they deserved to win an award. Acting isnít just mimicking and acting isnít just chewing scenery.

Now it seems that Forest Whitaker is going to win the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. It seems like a third in the trend. However, Whitaker, despite the plethora of critics awards he has already won, is missing something in his performance that Foxx and Hoffman nailed. He never gets past the mimicking.

Whitakerís style has never been to be subtle. Then again, neither was Aminís. He flails around the film looking crazy and being down right scary. In fact, itís to Whitakerís credit that he keeps the character as reigned in as he does. However, Amin never becomes something more than his reputation. Unlike fellow Oscar sure thing Helen Mirren, he never gets underneath the famous face to make us believe there is a person there. Maybe the film makers felt Amin is too much of a monster to have a human side but thatís not what award winning performances should be about.

And the film is set up to treat him as the monster he is. The Last King of Scotland is shot like a thriller and works as one. The score is all violin crescendos. The cinematography is all slight of hand to get you on the edge of your seat. Amin is the villain and his Scottish doctor is the hapless hero who must escape his evil clutches. Sure there is some political examinations thrown in but itís mostly background. This film is all about thrills.

With all the attention Whitaker's scenery chewing is getting, the real award deserving performance is being neglected. Young James McAvoy gives a layered and nuanced turn as the easily influenced and then highly regretful doctor. He does everything just beneath the surface and itís masterfully done. In fact, I would dare argue that itís his skill that keeps Whitaker in check. His palpable emotions keep you rooted in the film and make it a fun ride.

The Last King of Scotland has one good performance and one really amazing performance. Itís too bad the wrong one will be the one honoured on Oscar night.

Review By: Collin Smith

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