Friday, January 19, 2007

The Last King of Scotland

This movie was good..... but I say that with hesitation. I went in with very high expectations, perhaps too high to actually be met. The movie tells the story of Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), the president of Uganda from his takeover in 1971, through his being deposed in 1979. It is told through the eyes of Nicholas Garrigan, played by James McAvory. Garrigan is a fictional person based very loosely on Bob Astins, one of Amin's advisers. In the movie, Garrigan travels to Uganda directly out of medical school and begins working at a missionary treating villagers. Through a series of chance incidents, he becomes very close with Amin, and is offered the position as his personal Physician. Before long, Garrigan becomes his closest advisor. He struggles with his involvement with the dictator on his decline into paranoia and insanity.

I am not very knowledgeable about Amin or his story, so I cannot very well attest to the historical accuracy of the movie. This isn't an Idi Amin biopic, however, it's based on a novel of the same name by Giles Foden. It is more the story of Garrigan than of Amin himself. I liked this aspect of it, even though the advertising campaign clearly shows Amin as the main character. Garrigan is not a likable person from the beginning, but he is a compelling one. He is caught up with the lavish lifestyle that is given to him under Amin, and refuses to believe the stories of the atrocities that he hears. Underneath all this, however, he does have a desire to do good.

Forest Whitaker won the Golden Globe for his role, and even though I'm not sure he really was the best of the year, he was very good. From when he is first introduced, you can see the depth that he brings to the character. In some scenes he is amazingly charming, and in others he is utterly terrifying. Even during his clownish antics, you can still see insanity lurking just beneath his giant grin. McAvory also did well, through he wasn't quite as convincing in his struggle with the two conflicting desires, and some of his scenes came across as slightly overdone.

It was directed by Kevin MacDonald, his first major motion picture, though he has made several documentaries including "Touching the Void" and "Being Mick". For his first time out he does a good job. He takes what could have been an explosive action movie, and manages to keep it at a personal level, focusing on the characters over the events. The camera work is reminiscent of another similarly themed move, "The Constant Gardener", which I thought was actually a much better film. Both feature mostly handheld shots, rapid zooms and pans, as well as erratic editing. The last point tended to get annoying after a while, and even a little confusing, including several abrupt cuts that left me wondering what had happened.

For the most part I have given this a positive review, so why my hesitation in calling it good? There are a few points that brought it down for me. First, there was some gratuitous sex. I don't feel that this is a problem, except when it is unnecessary, and some of the scenes in this movie were certainly not needed. Finally, MacDonald, despite his staying faithful to his focus on the characters through most of the movie, strayed towards end, bringing in some intense and not needed violence. Now, I know this man killed 300,000 Ugandans, but that was conveyed very well in the movie without showing it. At the end, however, there was a scene that looked straight out of "Saw" or "Hostel" that I had a little trouble watching (and my favorite genre is horror).

This movie was very close to being fantastic. The acting was good, the directing for the most part was good, and the soundtrack was actually superb. It just strayed a little too much from what the aim of the movie was. It featured some very unnecessary scenes- too many to be overlooked.


1 comment:

bassoonchick said...

nice review

ps. I have mean girls!