Thursday, March 1, 2007


Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington

"Charming. Magnetic. Murderous."

Cinema 2, Glorieta 4

Idi Amin

By hook or by crook I was determined to watch this film, not because Forest Whitaker garnered all the best Actor accolades in all of the Award shows (Golden Globes, SAG, BAFTA & the Oscars) although it did sustain my curiosity but because he portrays a real life character, Idi Amin. A persona whose name became synonymous with brutality, cannibalism, a reign of terror and really maniacal despot of an African nation. You mention Uganda and you automatically associate it with Idi Amin. I missed the film's week long showing at the Greenbelt cinemas because I was out of town so I had no choice but to flock all the way to a cinema in Glorieta 4 (not really my favorite place) to catch it.

The story of Idi Amin is recounted through the eyes of a young Scottish doctor named Nicholas Garrigan, who wanting to escape from the clutches of his physician father spins a globe to determine where to practice his medical profession. It is interesting to note that his finger first landed on Canada but he cringes then spins it again to Uganda. I somehow found that really funny for some reason. The first few minutes of the film focuses on his medical work in a little Ugandan village set in the early 70s when the former President Obote was overthrown by a coup d'etat led by then General Idi Amin. The first time the viewer sets eyes on the new 'hero' of Uganda is a fleeting glimpse of him from the bus that carries young Dr Garrigan into town. The next sequence is when the camera creeps up behind Amin's broad shoulders during a rally, he is on stage giving a little ra-ra uplifting speech to an enthusiastic crowd at the village. From that moment on, Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin takes command of the film and the country (Uganda) and you can't help but be totally drawn into the whole gritty nature of both the film and the personality of this larger than life man.

So while the story is about Idi Amin, it is also the tale of Nicholas, the young Scottish doctor (a character who was inspired by 3 different people in the close circles of the dictator) driven by some altruistic sense to make a difference in Uganda. You might say he was like a silent yet powerful partner in some shady firm. The connection in this unlikely partnership is their common 'dislike' for the British. It is self explanatory for Nicholas, being a Scotsman et al while for Amin it stemmed from being a janitor who had to clean the latrines for the British army which ruled Uganda for several decades. So where as it was fascinating to watch Idi Amin's fall from grace, in my opinion it was more gripping to watch Dr. Nicholas Garrigan's steep decline into the corruption of his soul. How the fearless yet impressionable young lad sort of dug his own grave, so to speak. How all I could say to him while watching him getting into deeper s**t was 'you should have known better, you fool'. The change or should I say his realization about his part in contributing to the general paranoia of the delusional Amin comes gradually then it spreads like a bush fire until he tries desperately to 'escape' from it all. The build up to that part was the most thrilling part of the film. It puts you on the edge of your seat, you dig your nails into the seat and then you are made witness to one of the most gruesome scenes I have experienced lately in a movie. To say more would reveal everything so I won't. I also would like to add that I believe that James McAvoy deserved some recognition for his supporting role in this film. I mean compare it with the small role of Alan Arkin in "Little Miss Sunshine" or the even smaller role of Jackie Earle Haley in "Little Children", McAvoy's performance as Dr. Garrigan was brilliant. But yes I know it isn't up to me. Heh!

As for Forest Whitaker's portrayal of the delusional despot well he absolutely nailed it. From his accent to his cadence, everything was spot on. He also managed to give Idi Amin some really humane characteristics that you can't help but like the guy. His almost childlike fascination with anything Scottish, his shallow sense of humor (when he showed his body doubles to Dr Garrigan) to his doting fatherly attributes to all his children as well as his grandiose illusions of being the father of Uganda. Yet at the same time, you can sense the brewing rage, the paranoia, the need to hold on to power, the delusional almost maniacal personality festering on the surface. All the typical signs of a tyrannical despot in the making. How they all want to do good by their country, for their country yet slowly resort to really brutal, sadistic means to hang on to the reins of power.

The grainy type of filming contributed to the gritty nature of the movie. It had this documentary feel to it. A fetching soundtrack mix of some 70s pop songs with an African beat along with those haunting African music helped sustain the suspense, but I think sometimes it was too loud, though. During the early parts of the film, the violent scenes were sanitized. So when the consecutive sequences of really brutal scenes towards the ending were shown, it totally makes you grasp with shock and cringe with horror. But I was a bit annoyed by the jarring dreamlike sequence which unfolded before the gory scenes, it felt like the director was spaced out, it just felt out of place from the natural flow of the film. Overall though I think that it was important to show some really graphically violent scenes to show the extent of the brutality of Idi Amin but somehow it just seemed quite sudden or maybe I just got too sympathetic towards Idi Amin that I somehow forgot he was capable of such gruesome atrocities. I like how they somehow managed to sneak into the film, the Entebbe airport episode, the one about the hijacking of an Air France plane by Palestinian terrorists - it makes the film more historically accurate. I distinctly remember that fateful day because the only casualty in that unfortunate incident was the brother of the former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his brother was the leader of the Israeli forces who stormed the airport to rescue the remaining passengers/hostages.

In conclusion, I'd say that even though the film had some technical flaws, it is a well acted and an insightful film about President Idi Amin of Uganda - as seen from a young Scottish doctor, Nicholas Garrigan's point of view.

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