27-May-2007

Review - The Last King of Scotland

With the Oscar buzz, critics awards et al, the movie and especially the performance by Forest Whittaker as Idi Amin has got very wide press. And deservedly so. Tracking a fictional Scottish doctor, Nicholas Garrigan, the movie portrays the many sides of Idi Amin from the point of his seizing power to the infamous landing of an Air France plane kidnapped by the Palestinians at Uganda.
However, to begin at the beginning. For those of you who have a vague idea of Idi Amin being an African despot who knocked off lots of people during his reign, the idea is right. Idi Amin was the ruler (there is no right moniker since he called himself various things including the fantastic Lord of all beasts of the earth and the fishes of the sea) of Uganda from 1971 when he seized power from the previous president, Mr Obote till 1979 when he was overthrown by the Tanzanian army. During his reign, an estimated 300,000 Ugandans died, many political opponents were brutally killed, the economy plunged into a horrible crisis, Asians were expelled from Uganda and relations with various countries broke down. Among other things, he was suspected of being a cannibal.

Despite the kind of paranoid megalomaniac the man was, the movie does not caricature him as yet another despot who flourished under the aegis of the West while eventually becoming a Frankestein too tough to handle. It gradually builds a personality who some saw as a saviour, who loved his family (provided they toed the line) and who seems like he had the interests of Ugandans at heart. The na├»ve Nicholas Garrigan takes on the role of a personal physician and sees this aspect of the President. It is only as he graduates to being a close advisor of Idi Amin and becomes more politically aware of the human rights abuse plaguing the country does the crazed face of the President becomes obvious to Nicholas. He attempts to escape from his nightmare and learns firsthand how gruesome the President’s ire can be.

The movie is not a comprehensive portrayal of life and times under Idi Amin and prefers to focus more on the man himself. So don't expect a lesson in history. Infact in the initial scenes you are scarcely aware of how brutal things are going to get towards the end. Thanks to some generous snipping by the censors, Indian viewers have obviously been spared some of the more gut wrenching sights. Nevertheless it is chilling enough to let you break into a cold sweat and thanking yourself you are in a democracy, whatever be the problems.

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