Forest Whitaker is a brilliant performer, but also an eccentric one. His characters always have two tics at least and with his paced, breathy delivery of lines, they always seem on edge too. Kavanaugh is right in that mold. It’s telling how Whitaker parodied his “The Shield” performance on “American Dad” and that character, Detective Turlington, doesn’t feel an inch out of place.
Whitaker’s approach often works: see his Oscar-winning performance in “The Last King of Scotland” as Idi Amin, the psychopathic former dictator of Uganda. Sometimes it doesn’t; he feels out of tune as the half-mad freedom fighter Saw Gerrera in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
Thankfully, Kavanaugh is a performance that works; though heightened, Whitaker’s acting never feels inauthentic and he’s a scene-stealer. An Entertainment Weekly interview with Whitaker touted him as an Emmy contender for “The Shield” — in a galling snub, he wasn’t even nominated. In fact, Whitaker’s performance is my favorite performance on “The Shield,” even if I do find it a bit unfair to say this about what’s essentially an extended guest spot (he’s in 13 episodes, a season’s worth out of the total 78).
That said, Kavanaugh is a character that could have only come in later. By season 5, “The Shield” has a status quo and we’ve seen Vic and co. defeat other foes. Kavanaugh is designed as a new challenge for them; one with the law on his side and principles, but with a ruthless edge too. Whitaker’s performance excelled in part because he was in such a dynamic role; Kavanaugh versus Vic remains one of the best battles of wits I’ve seen on TV. And yet, a lot of viewers hated Kavanaugh because he was at Vic’s throat.