Published Sep 01, 2006This film labours under the misapprehension that it has something to say about the reign of Ugandan tyrant Idi Amin Dada. Sadly, it really doesnt. No matter, its still an absorbing 121 minutes of actorly menace and monstrous behaviour.
James McAvoy plays audience surrogate Nicholas Garrigan, a young doctor who arbitrarily chooses the doomed African country as a way of "making a difference. But a chance encounter with the newly installed Amin (Forest Whitaker) lands him a gig as the dictators private doctor and, more queasily, his private confidant. It doesnt take long for Amin to drop the line about growing up destitute and start wreaking horrible havoc on the nation, which unfortunately for Garrigan includes the now terrified inner circle.
Much is being made of Whitakers turn as the Ugandan Hannibal Lecter and this is part of the problem: though Amin is horrible, hes the only really differentiated black character and therefore is lent a begrudging admiration that has nowhere else to go. Thus, Whitaker is free to get his inevitable Oscar nomination on the back of a monster that actually lived to kill hundreds of thousands of innocents.
Thankfully, the film doesnt transgress too badly: though it makes a hero out of a twit who ought to know better, it manages to capture a surreal existence on the edge of a madmans fantasies. As long as you dont accept this as the last word on the subject of African despotism (and take the protags decision to flee the nest as the best and only response to the problem), youll be fairly boggled by the limits of Amins grotesque self-regard and Whitakers representation of same. (Fox Searchlight)