Babel didn't have any convenient starting times, so I saw The Last King of Scotland instead. Curiously, it seems that the only major award it is nominated for is Best Actor (Forest Whitaker), but on the other hand, he's been winning this award a lot - at the BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and various Critics' groups.
Forest Whitaker was great, and James McAvoy was great as the Scottish doctor/fly on the wall. His character is not only entirely fictional, but he's a bit unrealistic in terms of what he gets himself into. But of course without his recklessness, there would be no story here.
Whitaker is nearly perfect as Idi Amin. I doubt I could see another performance this year that equals it. Also, it's been common in recent years for actors to be rewarded for real-life characters - Truman Capote and Ray Charles in the last two years. I think Whitaker does a better job than either. The role is perfect for his abilities and takes a good advantage of his race and physical stature. I had long thought of Whitaker as a talented supporting actor, and first glimpsed the depth of his talent in The Crying Game. It seems weird that it's taken this long for him to find the right role. Ultimately I think he has loads more talent than Jamie Foxx, and I would even go so far as to say he has a smidgen more talent than Denzel Washington. That would put him up near Samuel L. Jackson at the top of the list of African-American actors today. Jackson, of course, remains unrecognized by Oscar in spite of brilliant performances in Jungle Fever and Pulp Fiction.
But I digress.
Whitaker conveys the combination of charm, paranoia, insecurity and rage that was Idi Amin. He captures all of them brilliantly, and gives us an idea of the kind of pathology that it takes to be a sadistic dictator. We see this personality rise to the top far too often in life, unfortunately.
A final thought: Gillian Anderson completely disappeared in this film. I realize she doesn't have natural red hair, but somehow she came and went without me recognizing that it was her. Not that she wasn't noticeable - I thought the address playing Sarah Merrit did a great job, I just didn't realize it was her. So I guess she's not typecast anymore. :)