leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
Forest Whitaker's mesmerizing performance as Idi Amin drives Kevin Macdonald's adaptation of Giles Foden's 1998 novel about the dictator's reign of terror, which left Uganda's once-thriving economy in ruins and at least 300,000 of his countrymen dead. 1971: Bored beyond reason with life in prim, gray, stiflingly Protestant Scotland, newly minted doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) flees to Africa, apparently for no more considered reasons than that it represents everything his dour, chilly homeland isn't. Nicholas intends to work in the rural Ugandan clinic run by idealistic Dr. Merrit (Adam Kotz) and his practical wife, Sara (Gillian Anderson), arriving in the jubilant aftermath of a military coup d'etat engineered by General Idi Amin, who ousts the corrupt President Milton Obote and positions himself as a people's president. Coincidence places Nicholas in General Amin's path, and the fledgling ruler is mightily impressed with the young doctor's common sense as well as his ancestry — Amin admired the Scots with whom he served as a young soldier in the King's African Rifles, Britain's colonial African military force. Nicholas becomes Amin's personal physician, a position that affords him a front-row view of Uganda's descent into blood-drenched chaos: While living in decadent luxury in his Kampala palace complex, Amin derails Uganda's economy by expelling established merchants and landowners of Indian extraction, and by confiscating their properties. He also pours scarce resources into the military and imprisons, tortures and murders anyone who opposes his increasingly irrational positions. Blinded by the intoxicating proximity of power and his own affection for Amin, despite his increasing awareness of the paranoid rages, debauchery and casual brutality that lurk beneath the president's charisma and genial clowning, Nicholas fails to recognize his own complicity in the carnage until it nearly claims his own life. There's something slightly unseemly about making Uganda's eight-year nightmare the backdrop to a naive European's loss of innocence, but the sheer force of Whitaker's portrayal eclipses other considerations: It is viciously hypnotic, a fictionalized re-creation of the deranged contradictions documented by Barbet Schroeder's chilling GENERAL IDI AMIN DADA (1974). Macdonald's brisk pace helps gloss over some of the story's more unconvincing turns — like Nicholas' insane decision to have an affair with one of Amin's wives (Kerry Washington) — and the supporting cast is uniformly strong, with Simon McBurney standing out as an oily representative of the British foreign service.