Saturday, September 02, 2006

Telluride '06: Forest Whitaker scares the poop out of me

TELLURIDE, Colo. -- In The Last King of Scotland, he plays Ugandan dictator Idi Amin as a total charmer who turns into a rampaging bulldog drunk on its own power. The Last King is the first dramatic feature by documentarist Kevin MacDonald, and it is one of the most merciless, intense films I've ever seen. It wrung me out like a sponge, and not necessarily in a good way. One thing is sure of Telluride: you will be challenged in some form or fashion. The Last King is schizophrenic, starting as a happy-go-lucky buddy picture and devolving into a brutal account of warlord politics. MacDonald indicts the Amin regime through the eyes of fictional (?) protagonist Nicholas Garrigan, a Scottish doctor who works in Uganda and accidentally befriends the fledgling country's president. Soon, Garrigan finds himself in an inescapable political mindgame with Amin. The final sequence of the film -- which interweaves torture, dismemberment, hostage-taking and a pulse-pounding escape attempt -- is almost unbearable. I'm not sure how to feel about the film; its intensity numbed me and its protagonist's behavior left me confused. Whitaker, however, creates an indelible villain. In limited release Sept. 27.

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