In The Last King of Scotland, Forest Whitaker gives a performance huge in size and spirit and terrifying in its downward-spiraling momentum. As Gen. Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator who deposed President Milton Obote in 1971, Whitaker embodies the explosion of energy and the urgent desire for legitimacy that comes with the violent overthrow of any government. Then the power surge dissipates and debauchery ensues as political self-preservation becomes Amin's only goal. He sets tribe against tribe and attempts to use warlord tactics and ethnic cleansing to unite the country behind him. He's a human shark, not just because of his ferocity, but also because he feels that if he stops moving and devouring his prey, he will die.
From Whitaker's first entrance, this movie does what All the King's Men failed to do: It expresses the visceral connection of a popular demagogue and his people. Amin is an orator who can speak at the top of his lungs without straining his voice. Addressing a rural throng, he promises public works for a vibrant future, then goes into the steady, undulating, near-slow-motion moves of a stalking warrior, holding a shield and anchoring a string of pretty dancers. At this point in history, he's at one with the beating heart of his country.
The Last King of Scotland (Fox Searchlight) Starring Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington. Directed by Kevin Macdonald. Rated R. Time 121 minutes.