The rise to power and violent regime of Idi Amin (Whitaker), real-life Ugandan dictator during the seventies, is seen through the eyes of a fictional character Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (McAvoy), young and a little naive Scotsman. Based on the book by Giles Foden, the story mixes well facts with fiction keeping the viewer engaged. Forest Whitaker goes above and beyond to give us a multi-layered portrayal of this larger-than-life historical figure. Well-trained by the British army, Amin happened to be one of the first two officer in the post-colonial Ugandan army; he raised quite fast in the ranks to Commander of all forces,thanks to his charisma and attitude to leadership, and brilliantly solved his years-long struggle with President Obote with a military coup. This is when young Nicholas meets him, cheered by the people as savior of Uganda. Amin has a great admiration for Scotland and he’s positively impressed by Nicholas, who is direct and self-confident. Nicholas is intrigued and charmed by this charismatic giant and let himself be convinced to become Amin’s personal physician. However, behind the lovely, colourful facade of life in the presidential residence, the blight starts to show: Amin is increasingly paranoid, ruthless and in more than one occasion shows erratic behaviour lashing out at advisors, family and friends alike. Amin relies more and more on Nicholas as he slowly turns himself into an absolute despot, ruling with iron fist and killing all his opponents. The viewer, together with Nicholas, is both disturbed and terrified by this Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hide behaviour and begins to understand that things will only get worse. To complicate matters, Nicholas has the not very bright idea of having an affair with Kay (Washington), Amin’s second wife, since she is lonely and shunned by the dictator due to the epilepsy of his son by her. Unfortunately for the parties involved and for the viewer, this will result in particularly gruesome violence as comeuppance dealt by the “wronged” Amin. I haven’t felt this much of empathic pain since A Man Called Horse. Our so-called hero makes it out alive, unfortunately that’s not the case for many Ugandans, during his eight-year regime Amin managed to kill 300000 of them, in rather horrific ways. During the last confrontation between the two leads there’s a very illuminating exchange:
Amin: I am Idi Amin! President-for-life and ruler of Uganda. I am the father of Africa.
Nicholas: You’re a child. You have the mind and ego of an angry, spoiled, uneducated child. And that’s what makes you so fucking scary.
This post is my contribution to the second edition of The Great Villain Blogathon hosted by an amazing trio: Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin and Kristina of Speakeasy. Go and read all the other entries linked on their blogs.
You can find my entry to last year edition here.