Monday, March 2, 2009

Historical fiction (Film - The Last King of Scotland)

We borrowed the film The Last King of Scotland from the library three times before we finally had enough time to watch it last night. I think I was a little skittish about the subject matter. It concerns the unbalanced dictator Idi Amin, his rise to power in Uganda in the 1970s, and his relationship with a young Scottish doctor (a fictional character), who goes to Africa after graduating school to escape the promise of a stifling middle class career. The doctor, a victim of his own innocence, ends up first being drawn to the charismatic Amin and then, through a crazy fluke, becoming Amin's personal physician. Forrest Whitaker eschews making Amin a one-note maniac - tempering his performance with a mixture of Amin's allure and an edge of desperate, childish insecurity. As always, I found James McAvoy able to do exactly what the role asks, beginning with an adolescent impulsivity, moving to enthusiastic innocence, and finally to a fear you could smell off the screen. He does not, like most young stars, telegraph the qualities in his character with foot-high explanations and pretend that he has done his job. Rather, he opens himself to each experience his character has and goes where he goes. McAvoy has just enough bravado to do that in front of you, but not so much that he changes the behavior of the character either for fear you won't get it, or because he needs to show you how great he is, or because he wants you to love him. McAvoy is probably the most emotionally accessible young male screen actor out there these days. He's great in this film and he's pretty stunning in Atonement too. Simon McBurney also does a great weasle-ish turn as a British diplomat. This film is very good at story telling with a minimal amount of text, dispatching with its exposition in a few short scenes and montages shots with music. It has an appropriately jumpy rhythm and its last half hour is horribly violent but also incredibly suspenseful. I am glad I finally got the courage to watch it.


Anonymous said...

What a strange coincidence, we were just talking about Idi Amin last night because I couldn't remember his name related to something else...but I didn't realize there was a film about him and with Forest Whitaker and James McAvoy to boot. I have no idea if I can find this here, but will have a look.

Sheila O'Malley said...

Have you seen Barbet Schroeder's totally bizarre documentary about Idi Amin? Not to be missed. So weird - and the story BEHIND the documentary is almost as interesting and terrifying as Idi Amin himself. Schroeder got total access to Idi Amin, and it's a documentary with very little narration or editorializing ... Idi Amin showed himself to Schroeder in the way HE wanted to be shown - and because he was a grandiose mad man he had no self-awareness of what he was REALLY showing ... One of the scariest movies I've ever seen. Truly creepy.

I love McAvoy too and I love to hear your analysis on why he is so special. Definitely one to watch.

Anonymous said...

I have read the book as well, and it has a different ending to the movie. The book goes right up to Idi Amin's overthrow. I think the book is actually better, but the movie is very good as well, especially Forrest Whittaker.