He’s paid his dues in some cracking TV series like Band of Brothers and Shameless. He’s played side characters in blockbusters like The Chronicles of Narnia. Though 2006 represented his first major lead role (Starter for Ten) 2007 might be the year where he really becomes a household name, with several high-profile films all set to break in early 2007.
The Last King of Scotland should be a big part of that. McAvoy plays Nicholas Garrigan, a recently graduated Scottish doctor who takes off to Uganda in search of a bit of adventure. He fetches up at a backwater hospital, but soon crosses paths with Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), recent victor in a bloody power struggle. Garrigan is charmed by Amin’s legendary personality, and accepts a position as his personal doctor. Seduced by the idea of helping to build a better Uganda, he becomes obsessed with Amin, and inexorably drawn into the dictator’s slow descent into madness and paranoia.
This movie is a real treat. Kevin MacDonald’s direction is superb, effortlessly blending moments of humour and tension, and perfectly pacing Amin’s gradual disintegration. His first fiction piece (previous work includes Touching the Void and One Day in September) is a real achievement. McAvoy also excels as the youthful, impulsive medic, a perfect portrayal of a foreigner abroad.
But it’s Whitaker who steals the show as the dictator himself. In what must be the performance of career, he perfectly captures Idi Amin’s impressive charm and frightening presence, painting a complex and, unbelievably, not wholly unsympathetic portrait of a bloody dictator who is so often characterised simply as a ‘madman’.
2007 could well be McAvoy’s year – but it could be Whitaker’s as well, if he can nab the Oscar he deserves for this performance. Great to have both of them around.