This film tells the true story of brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin's rise to power through a coup d'etat in 1970 and his subsequent slow descent into paranoia as seen through the eyes of his personal physician, the fictional Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan.
Forest Whitaker gives what many have been calling the performance of his career as the charismatic and volatile Amin, portraying the newly empowered president first as a charming and passionate revolutionary, a hero to his people, before his mistrust and quick temper turn him into a vile slaughterer of hundreds of thousands of his own people.
Whitaker's performance is utterly brilliant, going from calm, almost timid, to ferocious rage in the blink of an eye. His recent Golden Globe win for this film is well-deserved, and an Oscar is more than likely in his future, as well. He alone is worth the price of admission.
The rest of the film, while technically marvelous, falls a little flat, mainly due to the fictional nature of our protagonist, Dr. Garrigan. Newly graduated from medical school, he apparently travels to Uganda to steer clear of his parents' stodgy lifestyle back home in Scotland. He's young and craves adventure, which he hopes to find while working at a medical clinic in rural Africa.
The character, to me, is never fleshed out enough, though maybe he's not truly meant to be; rather, he's a stand-in for the wide, innocent eyes of the world, or at least of the young and naive. He accepts Amin's generosity, wealth and power with open arms and eyes wide shut. He's so enamored with the lifestyle afforded him as the president's closest advisor that he refuses to accept the horror around him until it becomes too personal to ignore. Garrigan, however, just never feels real to me. His plight, after all, never existed, which made it difficult to care about him.
Regardless, the performances are all magnificent and the scenery is simply gorgeous. It certainly looks how the cradle of civilization ought to. And Whitaker gives us a truly monstrous figure looming over it all.