I had one expectation from this film, and one expectation only. I’d heard good things in general, but the performance of Forest Whitaker is the thing that everyone talks about, and that was my main focus before delving into Uganda’s dark past.
The film focuses around the infamous dictator Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker) and we witness first hand the atrocities that happened under his watch. The story is told through the eyes of Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), who is pulled out of his charity work in Uganda and told he is to be Amin’s personal doctor. By Amin’s side, Garrigan is forced to take more of an advisory role, and is implicated in various morally questionable decision making processes that he does not want to be involved in, as Amin ruthlessly rules over the people of Uganda. I’m not sure how historically accurate the events are that are portrayed in this film, but they are all too believable and as inhumane as you would expect.
Forest Whitaker’s performance is quite simply fantastic. He instills fear in everyone around him, and I dare say the vast majority of the audience watching. The performance has so many aspects to it; he is likeable and amusing whilst being unrelentingly savage at the same time. A very worthy winner of the Academy Award that he picked up for this role. He is without doubt the stand out performer, although in terms of character he arguably plays second fiddle to Nicholas Garrigan. McAvoy’s performance as the troubled doctor is very good as well and David Oyelowo also impressed me in his performance as Doctor Junji, but all pale in comparison to the King.
Acting performances aside, the actual film wasn’t particularly spectacular. It is very slow paced, and at times I felt myself becoming a little bit disinterested. It feels like it’s dragged out a lot and either needed to be shorter in length, or needed an extra dimension. The narrative is very limited and linear, and whilst I appreciate that they wanted to stay as true to the fact as possible, this had a detrimental effect in terms of entertainment for the audience. Arguably though, this is not a film to watch for light entertainment. The gruelling 2 hour run-time of the film however, does allow Whitaker’s performance to be realised in it’s full potential so we can forgive them for being so meticulous.
This is a film that is dragged along by its performances. Without Whitaker and McAvoy leading the line, this film could have missed the mark. Instead, it scratches the surface of being a really good film, without being completely convincing. I’ve certainly seen better films, but I’m not sure that I have seen many better performances than Whitaker’s portrayal of the Ugandan dictator. Unfortunately, as good as the performances are, it doesn’t completely save the film as an entire entity, to which I conclude that this was underwhelming on the whole.
Director: Kevin MacDonald
Starring: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, David Oyelowo