The Last King of Scotland

Sometimes it only takes a matter of minutes for me to realize I’m locked into watching a bad film. Call me stubborn or stupid, but I refuse to walk out on a film. Rather, I stir in my seat, grumble to myself, and question who’s the bigger fool me or the person making the film. I’m sure in the case of The Last King of Scotland the answer must be me.

The film is garnering a lot of attention, mostly due to Forrest Whitaker’s performance as the Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin.

Simply put, Whitaker is overacting. There is a glint in his eye, a knowing sparkle, the sort of twinkle you see in Jack Nicholson when he’s being devilish. He’s a man getting to behave badly and he loves it.

I guess there is nothing too wrong with Whitaker relishing his chance to be over-the-top – after all Amin was a larger than life character, charismatic, charming, crazy; over-the-top. That being the case, must the filmmakers act the same way? They take what could have been an interesting character study of a young, impressionable doctor from Scotland living in Uganda and transform the story into a sexy, Seventies, spy thriller.

From the opening minutes until the every end the filmmakers’ use erotic sex, swelling music, and gruesome violence plays out in such a visceral fashion that I can fully understand why people are titillated by this film. They present Amin as some sort of dictator by way of Hugh Hefner – pool parties, et. al. I assume they want us to be as in the dark about Amin’s politics and his savagery as the young doctor happens to be, but that is asking a lot of anyone who knows anything about Amin. We are not as innocent or as ignorant as the protagonist.

At the same time, why must we be so informed about the fashion, fads, and sex of the times? Why do the filmmakers choose to show so much of this and so little of the travesties caused by Amin’s dictatorship? Why not show both or show neither? Making the conscious decision to show one and not the other, and to show the more pleasing of the two reduces the film to a period piece with little, but spectacle to present to the audience. We are left only wondering if the young white European boy will see past the parties, understand the horror of Amin, and escape the dark continent in time to realize the error of his ways.

In this manner the film feels dated; colonial.


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