The Last King of Scotland, Kevin Macdonald (2006)

A very interesting movie in terms of its point of view. I had expected a detailed portrait of Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda, but this is not that. This is first and foremost the story of a young Scottish physician who goes to Uganda in the early 1970s to do aid work, and then gets caught up in the Amin government, at first to his delight and later to his horror. Taking this POV allows the filmmakers to skirt a crucial problem. Rather than having to try to understand Amin, they can simply make him a big black boogieman to act as a two-dimensional villain opposing our cute young white hero. And yet, the movie doesn’t much like the kid, either: he’s naive, irresponsible, and astonishingly clueless. No, it’s more than that. He’s wildly annoying. Amin killed around 300,000 people, but this movie sometimes made me feel like rooting for him.

There’s some kind of double-reverse colonialism going on here. The Scottish kid feels kinship with Amin because he too is a resentful client of the British. But when the trouble starts, the kid goes running for the nearest white man and begs him to save his skin.

Anyway. It’s late and I’m tired and probably not making sense. Forest Whitaker is a terrific actor and does an excellent job playing the opposite side of the torture table from his greatest moment ever as an actor, in The Crying Game. The movie, though, sheds absolutely no light on the historical realities of the Amin regime. It’s really, at bottom, structured exactly like a Scooby-Doo episode, where at first the kids happily embrace the villain, then become aware he’s bad guy, then get scared, and then outwit him. Africa, land of incommensurable obscurity! Bullshit. This is just disappointing and lazy would-be engagement with challenging realities.

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