The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Forest Whitaker

Last week, we took at look at the career of writer-director Judd Apatow. This week, we're shifting gears to look at a solid performer who often goes under-appreciated...
Forest Whitaker

Forest Whitaker is the consummate character actor. While he's been the lead in dozens of well-received films, he's the heavyweight you call in when you need an absolute pro to give your film a sense of legitimacy. The guy has more gravitas then just about anyone in the business. While he's taken on his share of paycheck parts in clunkers, who could blame the guy? His long overdue Oscar for THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND kicked him up a few notches on the salary end of things and considering his long career, it's tough to hold films like FREELANCERS or VANTAGE POINT against him. Even in lame movies, he always delivers.

That said, it's disturbing to see how often he gets cast in generic authoritarian parts, like in TAKEN 3, where he literally has nothing to do but keep the audience interested when Liam Neeson's not on-screen. I appreciate him being used, but it would be better if he was used well as in this week's SOUTHPAW, where he puts an interesting spin on the prototypical gruff trainer part. Famous for his droopy eyelid (which has arguably helped make him iconic), Whitaker's been a major presence in films since way back in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. In addition to his acting career he's also had some major success as a director – typically of romantic dramas such as WAITING TO EXHALE (a major hit in 1996), the Sandra Bullock vehicle HOPE FLOATS and FIRST DAUGHTER. Who knew a guy who could kick all kinds of ass in movies like GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI could be so sensitive?

His Best Work

Arguably, Whitaker's best performance was as Charlie Parker in Clint Eastwood's BIRD. Mostly unknown at the time, outside of a showy part in PLATOON, the film put Whitaker on the map in a big way, nabbing him an award for best actor at Cannes – although shockingly he didn't land an Oscar nod. It's a terrific part, with Whitaker perfectly conveying Parker's mix of ambition, talent, charm and ultimate self-destructiveness in a film which has gone on to be considered one of the all-time great films about Jazz and the movie Eastwood's often gone on record as being most proud of. It's crazy that it took eighteen years for the Academy to finally recognize Whitaker, with him winning the Oscar for THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, which is obviously a career highlight but pales next to BIRD.

His Most Underrated Work

Having come out hot on the heels of his Oscar win, Whitaker's turn as good cop gone bad Jon Kavanaugh on The Shield ranks with his best work. While it's Glenn Close's arc that got the most press, Whitaker is just as good as the one adversary who truly seemed to have a leg up on Vic Mackey, only to be foiled by his own inherent decency. The last exchange between a now incarcerated Kavanaugh and Michael Chiklis' Mackey has a great line expertly delivered by Whitaker where he tells Mackey that “one day the universe will take out its trash.” An amazing performance and one of the most memorable characters in that show's run.

His Most Overrated Work

People loved Lee Daniels' THE BUTLER but to me it's a totally overrated film. Whitaker is fine in the lead, but it struck me as a bit too Oscar-bait and both Daniels and Whitaker have done way better work that was overlooked, while this checked off enough Academy boxes that it got tons of attention. Oh well, at least it gave both of them clout so they could pursue tougher projects.

His Most Memorable Scene

While he only has one scene in Martin Scorsese's THE COLOR OF MONEY, it's a doozy where Whitaker plays a young pool hustler who expertly plays Paul Newman's iconic “Fast Eddie” for a sap. Just watching Newman and Whitaker work opposite each other is magic.

His Five Best Films


Up Next

Truly the man has had a varied career and he's the kind of guy who'll likely turn into a Robert Duvall-style figure where the older he gets, the more in-demand he'll be. He certainly has tons of stuff coming up, including a rumored part in STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE. Man, I'd love to see Forest Whitaker as a leader in the rebellion, or even an Imperial bad guy. He's also got a part in the highly-touted Denis Villeneuve sci-fi flick STORY OF YOUR LIFE, opposite Amy Adams. Big parts for a big talent.

Source: JoBlo.com



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