Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Last King of Scotland (2006)

There's a pretty great movie that almost claws its way through the messy sprawl of The Last King of Scotland. This movie is about the phenomenon that was Idi Amin, as experienced and gradually realized by a cultural outsider. Rather than making a movie like Out of Africa, wherein a heroic white person signifies the oppression and hardship of Third World countries even as they fight for relief from these things, director Kevin Macdonald consciously keeps Dr. Nicolas Garrigan isolated and separate. He even has Forest Whitaker, as Idi Amin, spit out a last-minute rebuke to that sort of implicitly-racist filmmaking, accusing Garrigan of playing the crusading white man in a country that didn't ask for his help. (Also note that ultimately it's the white man who needs saving by a black man.) This movie is raw, creepy and queasily funny, and it's anchored by a justly-acclaimed performance by Whitaker; he gets a lot of big actorly moments playing the outsized Amin, the kind of moments that win Oscars, but I think the true measure of the performance is the handful of quiet moments he pulls off and how quickly his Amin can go from frightening to jovial in the space of a smile. Unfortunately, this film keeps getting interrupted by some other movie about all the stupid stuff that Garrigan does, especially in regards to his libido. The subplot involving the dangerous development of an attachment between him and Amin's third wife Kay (played, with typical panache undeserved by the role, by Kerry Washington) might be the dumbest thing I've seen in a "reputable" film from 2006. This obsession with following the foolish Garrigan, especially in a narrative that ultimately declares him a fool, cripples what could have been a fine dramatization of an ugly time in world history. Pity.

Grade: C+


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