How do you cinematically portray one of the most brutal dictators in the history of the world without turning him into a one-dimensional personification of evil? The answer lies in â€œThe Last King of Scotlandâ€ director Kevin Macdonaldâ€™s decision to cast Forest Whitaker in the lead role as Ugandan President Idi Amin.
Whitaker gives the performance of his career, transforming into the charismatic and ruthless figure who most sources say is responsible for around 300,000 deaths during his reign of terror in the early 1970s.
Whitakerâ€™s ability to tap into the leader who could charm reporters at a press conference while at the same time ordering executions in the next room, has already helped secure him the actor of the year award from the Hollywood Film Festival and is generating an Oscar buzz for the 45-year-old star.
Macdonald, who is better known as the documentary filmmaker behind â€œOne Day in Septemberâ€ and â€œTouching the Void,â€ and screenwriters Peter Morgan and Jeremy Brock have capably adapted the Giles Foden novel of the same name. They blend fact and fiction to tell the story of young Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) and his downward moral spiral as Aminâ€™s personal physician and â€œclosest advisor.â€
Garrigan, who is actually a composite of a few real-life people who were involved with Amin, starts out receiving his degree and looks for adventure in some exotic part of the world. He randomly chooses Uganda and travels to a small village to help with a relief organization administering medical help to the locals. There he meets and becomes attracted to Sara Zach (Gillian Anderson), the wife of the head doctor. They attend a rally for Amin out of curiosity and after helping the president with a minor injury from a traffic accident, Garrigan is called to the capital Kampala (the film was entirely shot on location in Uganda and Scotland).
Amin, who is fascinated by Scotland and infatuated with Garrigan, convinces him to become his personal doctor. Soon Garrigan is living in the lap of luxury, but he slowly starts to realize the true nature of Amin and the depth of his brutality, even becoming unknowingly complicit in murder.
The movie is at its best when the camera focuses on the interactions between Amin and Garrigan. It is interesting to watch their relationship progress and slowly start to unravel as Amin becomes more and more paranoid and violent. When the storyline strays from the focus on Whittakerâ€™s forceful portrayal of Amin, it devolves into some absurd areas.
For example, even though it is loosely based on real events, the affair between Garrigan and one of Aminâ€™s wives (Kerry Washington) and the gruesome aftermath detracts from the slow burn between Amin and Garrigan. Macdonald seems to feel we need to be visually shocked in some bloody scenes to realize the horrific nature of the crimes Amin and his thugs have committed.
However, the most terrifying parts are watching Amin on screen in all his rage and mania and wondering what sort of destructive thoughts are running through his sick mind and how many he will actually follow through on.
Whitaker brings out the full spectrum of Aminâ€™s personality. We see the gregarious side of him that captured the worldâ€™s imagination but also the sinister side which horrified and shocked the world. Amin forces Garrigan and the audience to ask ourselves why we are so drawn to powerful figures that are capable of such unimaginable evil.
WORLD - CULTURE
Copyright © 2010 Josh Marks
Starâ€™s Performance Gets Oscar Buzz
Copyright © 2010 Josh Marks
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