Whitaker Embodies Amin's Madness
Few films this year have been as suspenseful as The Last King of Scotland, which is due in large part to the tour-de-force performance of Forest Whitaker as the mad 1970s Ugandan President Idi Amin. He is convincingly scary, fleshing out the dimensions of his real-life character to the point where, although we can recognize the man as human, we're not sure what part of him isn't unpredictably insane.
The movie itself is an examination of Amin's personality and deadly legacy through the experience of a fictional young Scottish doctor, Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy). This character arrives with no knowledge of the Ugandan situation and eventually falls for Amin's charms, only to slowly realize what kind of person he really is -- in this way, he acts as the surrogate for both the viewing audience and the historical contemporary public. And although it's an effective device, the outside-looking-in perspective is once again unfortunately employed to simulate a white man's viewpoint of Africa. In other words, Amin and his subjects are viewed as the other -- to be pitied, exploited, or feared -- though the movie partially acquits itself in the end by admonishing just such a perspective through crucial lines delivered by Whitaker.
In something of a sub-theme, the movie also dishes out a stern warning against cocky young hotshots who pay more attention to what's below their waist instead of what's above it. Kevin Macdonald has chosen to depict this story, adapted from a novel, by diving face first into it -- his camera dances, his characters spark, and his depictions of gruesome horrors are designed to weed out the faint of heart. His best shot may be Amin's intro, which starts as a behind-the-back teaser, setting the expectation of a slow pan to the face; how he actually first shows the face immediately delivers the impact of the man's forceful persona.
(Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures and rated "R" for some strong violence and gruesome images, sexual content and language.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.