To listen to N.Y. Times critic Manohla Dargis, Forrest Whitaker‘s Last King of Scotland stock has just dropped a couple of points. And yet New Yorker critic David Denby is deeply enamored, so maybe it all balances out.
Dargis has described Whitaker’s General Idi Amin as a character who “changes moods on a dime depending on the gas percolating in his bowels or the threats on his person, real and imagined. It’s a role rich in gristle and blood, and Mr. Whitaker makes the most of it, even if the performance and the film’s essential conception of Amin never push deep or hard enough. This actor can play devious, [but] what you need in a film about a man who fed the corpses of his victims to the crocodiles is something more, something hateful and vile.”
Denby, on other hand, says that “Whitaker, [giving] the performance of a lifetime, makes General Amin a charismatic madman. Whitaker has done some surpassingly gentle and rueful work in the past, but for this role he has transformed himself — he’s either sprawled in a stupor or alarmingly mobile, throwing his big body around the room as if it weighed nothing. His laugh is enormous, and his arms are like grappling hooks.
“This dictator has a terrifying affability: like many sociopaths, he can be surprisingly empathic. He figures out what people want, but, once they have received his generosity, he believes that they belong to him. Any check on his desires sends him into a rage, and, as Whitaker takes off into astonishing tirades, one eye opens wide, and the other droops viciously — even his vision is schizoid.”