' ' Cinema Romantico: Last King of Scotland

Monday, January 29, 2007

Last King of Scotland

So let me be honest right up front. I attended this movie due to the fact Forest Whitaker has been winning every best actor prize imaginable (from the Golden Globe to the Pawtucket, Rhode Island Film Critics Association). I, of course, wanted to see if his performance lived up to the immense and incessant hype.

It does.

Whitaker is downright incredible as former Ugandan President Idi Amin. There's a lot of things he needs to display in this role.

1.) Charisma. We needed to see that which got the people of Uganda to believe he was their savior.

2.) Paranoia. Give him just half of a strange look and he'll pretty much assume you're out to get him and that pretty much means you're going to get (insert image of throat-slash gesture here).

3.) Vulnerability. Any instance - however brief - in which he is not his proud, powerful self is of the utmost embarrassment to him.

4.) Anger. You can be Amin's "closest advisor" until you advise him incorrectly or he decides he is not going to like you for awhile. And if that becomes the case he is going to

5.) Excessive Swings of Emotion. Amin suspects our main character is English. He gives our main character a look that essentially says, "I'm about three seconds away from slitting your throat". But then our main character advises that he is, in fact, Scottish. Suddenly, the main character is Amin's best friend and Amin winds up trading his general's uniform for our main character's Scotland tee shirt. (This scene, near the beginning, is the one when you start to realize why he's winning every award.)

6.) Menace. Even when Amin is at his most bombastically joyous you can't help but get the distinct feeling he is always on the verge of losing his marbles if someone says just one thing for which he does not care.

So yeah, everything required of the role we get, and then some. There are particular scenes - specifically when showing the aforementioned charisma - when he goes over-the-top but the performance itself never goes over-the-top. Amin was a force of nature and Whitaker plays him that way.

But wait, what about the rest of the movie? There is, contrary to popular belief, more to this movie than Forest Whitaker. The general story details Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan who leaves his country to come to Uganda to "make a difference". His difference-making comes in the form of becoming the personal doctor of Idi Amin himself. And slowly but surely, the real nature of Amin and his intentions for the country become clear to Garrigan.

Awhile back on this very blog we discussed "Blood Diamond" being told through the eyes of a white man despite its setting. Well, in the "Last King of Scotland" we get pretty much the same thing. But whereas I personally found Danny Archer in "Blood Diamond" to be complex and moving, I cannot say the same of Nicholas Garrigan (though that is not to disparage the performance of James McEvoy).

Part of the problem stems from the overwhelming quailty of Whitaker's performance. Remember how Shakespeare had to kill off Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet" because he was threatening to take over the play? I think "Last King of Scotland" needed to kill off Idi Amin. But, of course, thanks to actual history (such a nuisance) this could not be done. If a serviceable actor had been featured in the Amin role we might be discussing what a solid, if unspectacular, movie this was. Instead we're discussing the phenomenal work of Forest Whitaker and the rest of the movie........uh.........well..........there was a rest of the movie?

That's not necessarily a bad thing.

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