The Last King of Scotland
You cannot fail to have noticed the press for The Last King of Scotland and the amount of nominations the film is picking up this year. I do think that Forest Whitaker is a clear leader for the Oscar for Best Actor. So I had to see this as soon as it came out.
I knew little of the film or of the story, other than some understanding that Idi Amin was a pretty terrible person who was, at one point, the President of a country.
That was all I knew until I saw the trailer, and what struck me was the might of Whitaker and his presence, he's an actor/director I've always admired. So does he deserve the nominations and praise he's receiving, and does the film?
Firstly many thanks to the fabulous people at Edinburgh Ocean Vue Cinema for helping me with these viewings, they are a great cinema. Armed with a coffee and a hotdog I relaxed for the next two hours.
Forest Whitaker is stunning. There's no doubt about it, his performance is amazing as the dictator Idi Amin. He glides from magnetic charm, which even has the audience pulled towards him early on in the film, right through to a sociopath who values nothing of other people's lives and is filled with a paranoia that becomes all consuming. Genuinely, his performance is deserving of an Oscar, without a doubt.
Even when Whitaker is at his most dangerous and fearful, there's still a vulnerability shown through the performance. You can see that he's paranoid, scared and confused, and while that's no excuse it does help the audience to better understand the character rather than just portray him as a complete monster. He's made real by a great script and Whitaker's wonderful performance.
James McAvoy holds his own well with Whitaker. Although there's obviously not the range that is offered by the Amin role, he does play Garrigan superbly well. You understand his selfish, young and adventurous desire and how he could be swamped by the overwhelming charm of Amin, and yet you can see the danger grow and his world fall apart around him and still sympathise with him throughout the film. Indeed it's quite easy to look at this man's story and understand how you could have made the same decisions and lived the same life.
McAvoy gives a very strong, natural and highly emotive performance, not to mention utterly believable. I think that's something about the entire cast and this film as a whole, it is convincing and there's never a moment where you feel the story isn't real, or you're taken away from it by a typical film moment.
Something that's particularly good about McAvoy's performance and his character is that my feelings never really turned against him, and considering he's selfish, egotistical and self obsessed, then that's some feat. I think this is because the character is so identifiable from the outset, he's me when I was young and wanting to get out and have some fun and achieve something different and worthwhile, not forgetting partying all the way there.
Yet throughout the film you see him hide from the truth, back himself deeper into a corner, and always take the easier or more fun option. He continually hides from the harsh realities, for a great part he's blinded from these truths by the charm and lifestyle poured on him by Amin. He plays the role superbly well and throughout his bad choices you can understand why he makes them and sympathise with the character, even if you don't agree with them.
Gillian Anderson is a bit of a surprise here. She's hidden by the marketing of the two big names, but she comes out well, giving another natural performance. Her English accent is rather good as well, and she's looking better than ever.
There was something negative about the film that I didn't like, and luckily it only occurred a few times. For the most work the camera work was pretty unnoticeable, but there were a few moments where it did the oddest thing and took you right out of the moment. The worst couple happened when Whitaker was delivering a riveting and quite frightening performance and the camera was focusing on his face taking in every moment.
Suddenly it would drop and look at his hand, taking away from the powerful performance and breaking the moment. Now if this had been any other role it might have gone unnoticed, but at the time you really were hinged on his every movement and word. I really felt that this detracted from some key scenes.
The camera would move from a fixed position to an NYPD Blue style camera, and although it wasn't distracting and the shaking was kept to a minimum, there were some moments where it was noticed and again made it have a different feel for the film. There were also a few moments where the camera was out of focus and never seemed to come back for that shot, or where there was an extra zoom into a shot after a few seconds.
It's strange to see such little moments in amongst the film, for they did stand out for me and my friend who was watching the film at the same time.
This film is superbly crafted though, it brings you in to its bosom early on, and enticing you into the warmth of the characters, and then ever so slowly it chips away at that until the latter part of the film leaves you incredibly tense, on edge and very uncomfortable.
Later on, when the Doctor discovers what is really going on and goes to talk to the English civil servant about getting out of the country were perhaps the start of that uncomfortable ride. It's here where you realise that everything really has turned to hell and there's no way out, and even he won't help preferring just to use him instead. This doesn't show the British Government in any better light than the incumbent Government there.
It's a harrowing moment, and payback from the English character for the Scottish-English jibes earlier in the film that were so amusing and yet so real. The closing scenes were particularly dramatic and had me squirming in my seat and wondering how it was going to end.