Aden had just read the book, prompting the rental of the film adaptation. The opening credits state that the film is “inspired by true events” but that should not read that it’s based on true events. The tale of the film is set in the heart of Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda throughout the seventies, plunking the fictional Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, recently graduated, into the heart of Amin’s story. The story is quite engaging, but there’s perpetually a looming sense of unrealism, especially by the end. Though Garrigan is rather tightly inserted into the events in Uganda of the era (of which I have to admit I was completely oblivious of prior), as he becomes Amin’s best mate, and suddenly a trusted advisor, the film start showing it’s seams. And knowing it’s fiction, the film has to constantly battle to keep you in the fiction within the fact.
It is its attention to the facts, giving Amin’s portrayer, Forest Whitaker, a plethora of scenes to play which have been publicly documented, that does ground the film, and capturing the climate of the country and the 70’s helps keep the viewer interest. Whitaker plays Amin as a big bear of a man, alternately intense and charming, a personality initially inspired by his position, then seduced by his power, eventually succumbing to it, the film assuming his paranoia leading to genocide to the tune of 300,000 Ugandan citizens and the deportation of all of it’s Asian residents.
James McAvoy plays Garrigan who, in parallel somewhat to Amin, portrays an idealist, venturing to Africa for adventure and to “make a difference” only to find himself seduced by the glamor of Amin’s presence, and ultimately too far in over his head once Amin’s charming facade degrades. While Whitaker steals the scenes (gaining an Oscar not in the process) it’s all Garrigan’s story, which winds up more as a thriller than a historical drama.
It’s an entertaining movie, but some of its insertions (such as Garrigan’s affair with Amin’s wife and her subsequent death) aren’t wise choices (straying from the source novel, I’m told) while also playing into one of the more fantastical rumours (that Amin had his dismembered wife’s body inaccurately reattached) for the sake of shocking imagery, yet they have the gall to state in the bonus features how they want to dispel the myths and rumours around the figure and portray him in a multifaceted light.
Directed by Kevin Macdonald (not the Kevin McDonald), his documentary roots serve him well for the subject matter, but he’s not a great director. Awkward edits, questionable shots, and altogether unimpressive cinematography, I found the visual presentation often distracting. Though far from a bad movie, I found the supplementary features made for a more enlightening experience.