The Last King of Scotland (2006)

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This image may summarise the film’s implausibility.

Although it features a superb transformation from Forest Whitaker and a series of well-constructed scenes,  the largely fictional narrative that surrounds them is ultimately rather formulaic and implausible.

‘The Last King of Scotland’ is all about Forrest Whitaker; as soon as he graces the screen, he is Idi Amin. The unison of Whitaker’s physicality and his superb East African accent, which is perhaps the most impressive element of his performance, transforms him into the Ugandan dictator.

Although it is clear that Amin is a manipulator and intent on getting his own way, he is loquacious, magnetic and, surprisingly, quite affable. He charms both the viewer and Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), the impressionable Scottish doctor who initially believes Amin’s rousing yet hollow speeches.

It soon becomes apparent however that this is a charm offensive, a manipulative process that wears very thin once Amin’s deeply ugly, frenetic megalomania is laid bare. Like many of history’s dictators – Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot – Amin succumbs to paranoia, and mass violence ensues.

The film begins with the proclamation that ‘This film is inspired by real people and real events.’, however it fails to state that the central character Nicholas Garrigan is actually entirely fictional. I hadn’t looked into the film’s veracity before watching it, however although there appeared to be clear narrative exaggerations at times, I had presumed that Garrigan was at least a real person. It is a typical example of the ‘inspired by real events’ cliché, ‘inspired’ is always the key part of the sentence.

The film follows Garrigan as he inadvertently becomes Amin’s personal physician and at times ‘closest advisor’; it is indeed an extraordinary predicament, but I suppose stranger things have happened. McAvoy is good as Garrigan, his gradually souring relationship with Amin is interesting and intense, they have many great exchanges.

However, with the knowledge that Nicholas Garrigan is an invention of Giles Foden, author of the book on which the film is based, Scotland’s narrative seems rather formulaic and implausible. I found Garrigan’s relationships with medic Sarah Merrit (Gillian Anderson) and Kay Amin (Kerry Washington) to be hackneyed plot mechanisms.

While the film includes real events such as the Israeli hostage crisis at Entebbe International Airport, much of what occurs is either historically unfaithful or sheer fiction. The story was inspired by one of Amin’s many self-bestowed titles – The King of Scotland.

An example of the film’s implausibility is the scene where Garrigan and Amin first meet. Amin’s Citroen DS has been in a collision with a cow (what appears to be an Ankole-Watusi), leaving him with an injured hand that Garrigan tends to. The creature appears to be fatally wounded and wails in a pain until Garrigan, who has repeatedly asked for it to be put out of its misery, takes Amin’s gun from the roof of the car and mercifully shoots it twice in the head.

Although the surrounding guards train their guns on Garrigan, predictably Amin respects his audacity, and, amusingly, is particularly pleased when he finds out he is Scottish. It is a scene that is quite bereft of credibility.

Although the film has elements of character study, my main problem with the film is that it doesn’t give an insight into Amin’s rule and the atrocities committed under it. Although he is clearly a despot, a mentally ill bully, the film’s emphasis on his fictional relationship with Garrigan rather than fact meant that I didn’t find him hateful.

‘The Last King of Scotland’ features a superb transformation from Forest Whitaker and a series of well-constructed scenes, however ultimately the largely fictional narrative that surrounds Whitaker is rather formulaic.

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The Expendables (2010)

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A surprisingly entertaining film that ignores credibility with delightfully wanton results.

All realism and credibility is thrown out of the window in this delightfully macho celebration of the 1980s action film. The action scenes are huge, loud and fantastically violent. It blends brutally choreographed mêlée, explosions and gunfights, with each one of the Expendables having their fair share of the action. However, although the film is satiatingly steeped in aestheticised violence, I did find that some of the CGI violence wasn’t as tangible as I’d have liked, I prefer old fashioned squibs and syrup. This is unfortunately a problem in many modern films,  even in the incredibly violent ‘Rambo’ (2008).

The plot is a simple, familiar one; it follows the Expendables as they infiltrate and overthrow a Latin American dictator, with the token sinister executive thrown in there for good measure. Away from all the wanton destruction are parts that are surprisingly character driven, particularly the chemistry between Stallone and Statham, whose tough, competitive camaraderie may be somewhat clichéd but certainly entertaining.

As the image above suggests, a terrific cast has been assembled, it includes: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Mickey Rourke, Randy Couture, Steve Austin and even cameos from Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. There are some notable names missing from the cast, but thankfully there’s scope for a whole Expendables franchise, giving many other fan favourites an opportunity to become an Expendable. This is probably the first time that I’ve found myself wanting a mindless blockbuster franchise to come to fruition; with a team of cine-literate, witty writers, the possibilities are almost endless for potential sequels. Who knows, the film could even attract some heavyweight talent in the form of Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino – ‘The Expendables’ could add further dimensions to its celebration of masculinity!

Perhaps my satisfaction with the film was accentuated by my low expectations coming into it, but I think I would’ve enjoyed it regardless of expectation; it delivered the masculine, ridiculously excessive carnage that, for me, makes it a funny, exciting break from reality – I left the film with a big smile on my face.

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