Friday, February 16, 2007

Movie Review: The Last King of Scotland

The Last King of Scotland

In Brief: What's Good

  • Excellent performance by Forest Whitaker as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

  • James McAvoy also does an excellent job as the fictional character, Dr. Nicholas Garrigan.

In Brief: What's Not As Good

  • The movie doesn't do an excellent job showing how brutal & tyrannical Idi Amin was. His ruthlessness is explained well enough, but rarely do we see the man himself commit an act of violence or even give the order for one.

  • There is a torture scene near the end of the movie that is pretty graphic and not for the squeamish.

B- Story
A- Acting
B- Directing
B Visuals

Feeling smothered by expectations to follow in his father's footsteps, Nicholas Garrigan, a young doctor about to start his career in his native Scotland in the early 1970's, decides to live a more adventurous life by practicing medicine in the African country of Uganda.

Thanks to a recent military coup, General Idi Amin has risen to power as the new president in Uganda. After an incident requires Dr. Garrigan to patch up the new president, he finds himself entangled in Amin's administration, something that isn't so bad at first but becomes something very treacherous later on.

For his powerful performance as Idi Amin, Forest Whitaker has been nominated for an Oscar and has already won a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award. I can see why. I've read that Whitaker got so wrapped up in the role, that he often stayed in character and talked in the Ugandan accent even when the cameras weren't rolling. After the movie was finished shooting, it took a while for Whitaker to get Amin out of his head and get back to his normal personality.

While I'm not familiar with the voice or mannerisms of Idi Amin specifically, Whitaker definitely embodies the role of a believable African dictator. Whitaker plays Amin as being intimidating and charming, creepy and eccentric, ruthless and childish, all at once. From what I've read about Amin, he was a mixed bag that had some people convinced he was an okay guy for a while before his atrocities started to surface. Much of the likable, almost redeemable aspects of his character are successfully highlighted by Whitaker's performance.

Oddly, this movie does not do a great job *showing* you what the bad things are about Amin, at least not early on. Don't get me wrong, by the end of the movie it's crystal clear that he's a sadistic, murderous, corrupt, paranoid, and politically clueless military dictator. But, much of this is explained through exposition, photographs that document off-camera events, and an overall bad vibe from Amin that gradually grows worse.

This style of storytelling might be intentional and may be a good thing or bad thing, depending on how you look at it. History has proven that Idi Amin had a bloody reign of power. So, it may be the purpose of this movie to show a more complete picture of the man, including the charismatic and eccentric half of his personality.

Perhaps that's why many of his evil acts are talked about rather than shown. That may be bad in that it violates the rule of "show, don't tell." On the other hand, much of the story is told through the point of view of Dr. Garrigan, so perhaps we are expected to learn of Amin's brutatlity at the same pace that Garrigan does.

The first half of Idi Amin's reign throughout the 1970's transpired before I was born. So, I went into the movie knowing very little about Idi Amin. After looking up information at Wikipedia, I'm a little disappointed about the amount of fictional content in the movie, especially in regards to Dr. Garrigan (he is a fictional character only loosely based on a real doctor under Amin's administration). However, the movie does serve as both an entertaining drama and an informative primer into further study about this prominent historical figure.

Oscar Awards

  • Win - Best Lead Actor: Forest Whitaker

Screen Actors Guild Awards

  • Win - Best Lead Actor: Forest Whitaker

Golden Globe Awards

  • Win - Best Drama Lead Actor: Forest Whitaker

Fun Facts from Wikipedia

Apparently, the movie is only loosely based on the book of the same name, and the book is loosely based on what happened in reality. Idi Amin is obviously real, but the movie's other main character, Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan, is fictional. He is based loosely on Idi Amin's rea-life English-born physician, Bob Astles.

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