Directed by Kevin MacDonald. UK/USA. 2006.

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The story of a Scottish doctor, Nicholas Garrigan, who becomes Idi Amin's (the ruthless Ugandan dictator) personal physician is largely an amalgamation of several people but is based in fact during the dictator's political coo and his ultimate downfall in the eyes of the international peacekeepers. 

Amin is a big subject but it is about time he was conceptualised onto the screen.  It also needs a big presence and Forest Whitaker, so usually cast a loveable teddy bear, brings his huge frame to the role and pairs both the charm of the man and his love for his country, with the irrational, paranoid nature of a man who at times does not know what he's doing.  Whitaker won the Golden Globe for Best Actor and is favourite for the Oscar, a credit that such a tricky role when handled properly by such a versatile actor can be exceptional. 

But for me the big surprise was James McAvoy as Garrigan who convinces starting off full of life yet the more he gets drawn into Amin's circle he realises he is drowning.  At times he resembles Warren Beatty in The Parallex View, a character way in over his head but of his own doing.  Garrigan is the centre of the film with the character arc and when watching I thought why McAvoy is not up for lead actor, and not even supporting awards.  His bright blue eyes shine in the bright light like O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, and his youthfulness and naivety like Lawrence enhances his plight. 

Criticisms would be the lessening of Gillian Anderson's role who appears all too briefly in a role underwritten and seemingly forgotten about once the action moves to the capital. 

Kevin MacDonald's debut fiction feature film shows the Award winning documentary maker has enough nuance to direct a big budgeted film much like his contemporary Paul Greengrass has shown.  He is a keen observer of people, but this awareness makes them both good directors of actors and also their fluency of movement allows for good camerawork.   

A good shot is when Nicholas has picked a model of a new building for Amin to ponder over, the camera glides down the outside of the model and then Whitaker appears from round the corner, his big face encompassing the whole of the screen and bigger than the building making this monster akin to Godzilla.   

However, one aspect of the film process that did impress me was the use of sound in the creating of tension in key scenes - the first meeting between Amin and Nicholas with pains of the cow racketing up as Nicholas attempts to diagnose the dictator, helping externalise Nicholas' thoughts.  Just another aspect of this deft piece of film-making, both educational and entertaining.

Jamie Garwood
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