When I was in junior high school, teachers there talked a lot about Idi Amin. They made him out to be some sort of small-scale Hitler; a ruthless dictator who slaughtered his own countrymen in pursuit of personal and political gain.
I didn't get it, really. I saw Amin on the news from time to time, and he was always sort of a goof. Eccentric. A bit silly, even.
Some time later I read that Amin had killed over 300,000 of his people, tortured political opponents and murdered many who he thought opposed him.
I suppose that resume qualifies Amin as an evil totalitarian dictator.
Forest Whitakar won the 2006 Academy Award for his portrayal of Amin in The Last King Of Scotland. And the trophy is well deserved. Whitaker's performance is inspired, and focuses often on the erratic behavior of the Ugandan president.
Nicholas Garrigan is a young Scot fresh out of medical school who craves adventure and excitement. After traveling to Uganda to provide medical care to the country's impoverished citizens, Garrigan ends up meeting President Amin soon after Amin's military coup. Amin takes a shine to the young doctor, and appoints Garrigan his personal doctor.
Well, of course that was a mistake. A big mistake. Garrigan suddenly had an inside view of how the country is being run: through intimidation and superstition. Decisions are made to satisfy Amin's paranoia. And Amin became so erratic that even Garrigan--whom Amin called "my most trusted advisor"--feared for his safety on a daily basis.
The Last King Of Scotland is a good film made better by the incredible performance of Whitaker. Without Whitaker, the film is so-so.
But with him, it's riveting.