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The Last King of Scotland

Forest Whitaker’s performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland is as good as you’ve heard it is. His charisma seems boundless until it is replaced in a moment with impatience, or appetite, or melancholy, or mistrust; his face shifts from a paranoid scowl to a satisfied grin in a blink. Which is all to say that it is in volatile emotions that Whitaker represents Amin’s megalomania. Whatever Amin was like in person—there is little reason to think he was less, and good reason to suspect he was much, much more—Whitaker plays him as a man possessed.

The movie in general I was less impressed by in large because I was confused through the whole of Act III. There, Nicholas Garrigan (played grinningly by James McAvoy), a Scot who has been swept up in Amin’s gregariousness and who has become Amin’s personal physician, covers for the disappearance and probable state murder of the Ugandan health minister, whose death he played a small part in causing. I was confused because the health minister had been a fairly significant supporting character, but only once in the first half of the movie had he been referred to by his title. Mostly, he was just a bureaucrat, named by Amin as one of his closest advisers. But after he disappeared, “the health minister” was the only name he had to go by. Either there was something in my attention that took advantage of just the wrong inopportunity to wander, or there is something unnatural in the storytelling that allowed this small, significant detail to derail much of the plot for me. And the story does jump, as too does the often handheld camera. From Amin’s face it dips to his large, animated hands and back—a poignant symbol of action and exuberance. Unfortunately, too often such shots were ruined by a grin from Garrigan. Director Kevin MacDonald surely took from Fernando Mireilles, whose own filming of Africa in The Constant Gardener was colorful, jumpy, exuberant; but where Mireilles is concerned with juxtaposing wealth and poverty, MacDonald concentrates on the despotic and licentious abuse of power by Amin.

I’ve more to say about the movie, but in a different context, so look forward to another post soon.

 

Comments

I think I liked the movie more than you did. And why in god’s name can’t you be like other people and lean in with a loud whisper: “Who the hell’s the Health Minister?!”

I also despised that James McAvoy’s grin—he definitely wasn’t tempted to underplay his character’s wonderment and exuberance.

I don’t like to talk during movies.

I did like it well enough; I mean, Whitaker is awesome, and there’s enough other good stuff there to kind about. I’m not entirely sure that my confusion wasn’t of my own doing anyway; I can hardly blame the TLKoS for that.

I realize I kinda left my review hanging, partly because of the other stuff I’m writing about it.

we dont´t watch movies anymore, unless they are on netflix… in that case i´ve recently seen:

once upon a time in the west (for the second time) it has the absolute best opening EVAR

who killed the electric car… a good, albeit, very politically biased doc…that´ll make you mad at the collusion between the car companies, oil, and government.

walmart the highcost of low price—little more than a blunderbust argument that walmart is bad… a let us cram into 2 hours as many arguments, most anecdotal, all ad hominem, to convince that walmart is bad. but, it did make me think about large, one-stop shop stores.

and balzacand the little chinese seamstress… a great coming of age movie that will make anyone who grew up somewhere and moved away feel overcome by nostalgia.

oh, and on marathon, one of the keys, we saw the pursuit of happyness in a little theatre that had rolling chairs and tables. it was nice… people clapped at the end. the story of the dad caring for the son was really well done. they got lazy, though, with the mom, it seems. and i´m just always cynical about the you dream it, hold on to your dream, and you too can make a bajillion dollar type stories.

I’m glad to see that you and Will Smith are still tight.

so, we saw the movie in question last night.

and FW deserved every accolade thrown his way. a lot of the dialogue, especially FW’s was very well-written and he delivered it as close to impecably as possible.

i was confused during the whole movie because in the transition between act 1 and 2 he was bit by a mosquito while sleeping, and they made a big deal of it, and i spent the whole movie thinkging to myself…when’s he gonna get malaria and die and earn the distrust of president general amin?

then i was confused by his sleeping with amin’s wife, over and over again. the one night stand was fine, if not entirely believable, since she was already blacklisted at this point and because she would know better, but the various scenes of them on the outskirts of town…

though the historical mrs. amin #2 is rumored to have cheated on him, one has to believe that you cheat on such an unpredictable figure only by snuffed candle light.

last of all, i couldn’t help but thinking… do we really need a white kid to be the deictic finger lifting back the covers and pointing us to amin?

and, why is it an african that must lay down his life for a vain, self-indulgent scotsman? why can’t he simply die strung up like a hunk of meat and in an honorable death pay for his many, many sins?

That he escaped was so obviously a gaffe of imperialism: someone—the writer? director?—believed Garrigan was redeemable enough (perhaps because, by virtue of whiteness, he could get by on charm alone) that he needed to be rescued from Savage Africa, presumably so he could return to his stern parents and grin at them.

right, and so better than the beautiful death, he should’ve died the sniveling sycophant that he started out as… this they could’ve contrasted with jonah wasswa, to show how real men die and serve

truth be told, garrigan was never a likable figure

To me, it seemed as if the whole movie was a warning against (liberal? white?)romanticizing of Africa. Garrigan goes to Uganda a naive college boy (no way that guy is old enough to have finished med school)to party and screw his way out of the boredom of middle-class English/Scottish life only to find out that Africa and Africans are even more savage and crazy than his colonial history books had described.

I’m all for not romanticizing Africa, especially its vicious dictators, but not because Africans are morally and socially unworthy of it — but because we are all unworthy of it.

he still should’ve died… i mean, all the easy girls in horror movies pay for their sins (and ours) by their gruesome deaths.

I’m all for Garrigan’s death too. My point was merely that his sniveling sycophancy were meant to be a cheap swipe at liberal attitudes toward Africa.

He lives, I think, at the end because he does what his conservative Scottish family would have had him do all along — leave Africa to those savage Africans.

that’s the bad thing about using a white man to tell the story of amin, if he survives it’s because white men can’t die, if he dies he’s a cheap scapegoat for the west.

But why the need to turn “don’t romanticize” into “they’re crazy beasts over there” and allow Garrigan to get away? (Granted, there’s been some pollyannish filmmaking about Africa. Millions (which I loved) concludes with a fantasy in which the entire family cavorts with African children in the hot African sun around a well. The fantasy fits and I’d say is the right conclusion given the narrative’s perspective, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not romanticizing Africa.) So he wanted to use Africa as his playground—that’s nothing new among other European abuses of the Dark Continent. So he discovered he acted dishonorably and paid something of a price for it. Was that all a means of saying,

Dear Africa,
We may have been bad to you, but you still can’t act like that!
Luv & Kisses,
—Europe

If so, it’s stilted, preachy; above all, it’s hypocritical. There’s no good reason for Garrigan to have been able to get away from Amin when nobody else could, either.

12 to 8. I see you already solved it.

11 is why The Constant Gardener tells the European story in Africa right. It leaves Ralph Fiennes about to die, but without actually killing him; all of the intrigue weaves around to a plot so convoluted that few really understand what’s going on. There’s honor in it, but it’s complicated.

I think this is about right:

Dear Africa,
We may have been bad to you, but you still can’t act like that!
Luv & Kisses,
—Europe

I did find the movie preachy and hypocritical. But I’m not sure that he paid any sort of price for his behavior. It seems the biggest suffering (aside from the torture which was unjustified and therefore made him into one of Amin’s victims) Garrigan will face will be returning home with his tale between his legs. This seems to validate the smug, pragmatic, colonial view of the British diplomats and spies that Garrigan so despises but must turn to for help.