Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Last King of Scotland

(Movie Review)

I was avoiding this movie for a while because I thought it would be really depressing. Recently a friend recommended it to me so I thought I'd check it out.

My initial reaction watching this movie was, "Wow, this guy has quite a story to tell."

Then of course I jumped on the ol' Internet and found out that the story about Scottish Doctor Nicholas Garrigan and his unique relationship with Uganda strongman dictator Idi Amin was entirely fictional.

As a self-avowed history geek, I'm one of those people who thinks that when it comes to historical pieces, the actual is always more interesting than the fictional. Who cares about the problems of fictional doctor Garrigan? Not me. But the actual historical details of Amin's reign in Uganda are something I'd like to know about.

At the same time though, I do understand the narrative difficulties in putting together a story like this. You need to have a sympathetic narrator you can identify with and through whose eyes you can see the train wreck of Ugandan history unfold. Otherwise the movie would never draw you in.

I'd be interested to hear from someone who read the original novel, but I suspect this balancing act is something that's a lot easier to pull off in a book. In a novel you have the space to explore both the fictional story and the historical story, and give ample background and detail to both. In a 2 hour movie you have to pick and choose a bit, and I felt like this movie gave very little background about the politics surrounding Amin's reign of power.

The story focuses almost exclusively on Nicholas Garrigan and his fictional relationship with Amin. To the American viewer uninformed about Uganda's history (which, lets face it, is pretty much all of us) we don't know anything about who he is fighting, why he is fighting them, and what the British stake in all of this is? What is his connection to the Palestinian terrorists? Why is he anti-Israeli?

That being said, the film did inspire me to go to the internet to look up a lot of this stuff. (Amazing thing the Internet. Did you ever wonder what people did before it? How did they ever tell which parts of a movie were fictional and which parts were real?)

And assuming a number of people are like me, this movie will send many people surfing around to find out the facts themselves. This is perhaps of particular interest to people like me born after the events depicted in teh film, who would otherwise have had no idea about who Idi Amin was. And it that respect it can be viewed as educational. It is certainly a lot better than most of the crap the film industry cranks out.

...One last thought. I hate to be the politically correct guy, but the question has to be asked: Can we have serious films about the problems in Africa that aren't viewed through the eyes of a white European protagonist? "The Power of One", "In My Country", "Cry Freedom", "Blood Diamond" all dealt with White protagonists. I don't even think I've seen a film about Africa that didn't have a white protagonist, with the exception of Lumumba, which doesn't really count because it was a foreign film. (Although granted I've never seen "Hotel Rwanda").

Link of the Day
On a Deadly Day, US Reports Drop in Iraq Attacks

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