Reviews by Jason Pirodsky
Forest Whitaker gives a career-best performance as crazed Idi Amin in Kevin McDonald´s The Last King of Scotland, a (mostly) fictional tale of the infamous dictator and a young Scottish doctor appointed his personal physician. Real events – Amin´s atrocities and the Entebbe hostage crisis – serve as a backdrop to the story of the fictional doctor (played by James McAvoy and partly based on Brit Bob Astles, Amin´s real-life right-hand man) who comes to Uganda on a whim and inadvertently becomes involved with the newly-elected president. Plot structure is taken straight out of a Scorsese picture, with happiness in excesses until mysterious disappearances and mass killings.
Whitaker simply dominates the screen here, creating (at first) a likable, lovable dictator, and slowly peeling the layers away into total insanity and vile atrocities. Borderline ridiculous at times (especially the contrived ending) but fascinating nonetheless. Protracted plot developments threaten to turn Amin into a Bond-movie villain; but hey – perhaps he was. Documentary filmmaker Macdonald (Touching the Void) owes partial debt to Barbet Schroeder´s 1974 Idi Amin Dada, a documentary overseen by Amin with the dictator staging scenes for the camera; here, Forest Whitaker gives a better ‘performance´ as the general than Amin himself, completely elevating what may have otherwise been a pedestrian thriller.
Perhaps the highest-adrenaline action movie ever made: a man (Jason Statham) is injected with a slow-acting poison that will kill him if his heart rate drops below a certain level. It´s Speed on, well, speed, as Statham injects himself with adrenaline boosters, raids convenience stores for Red Bulls and pep pills, and constantly bursts into periods of total rage in an attempt to stay alive long enough to take revenge on those who poisoned him. Preposterous, ridiculous, but also incredibly fun; suspension of belief is required throughout, but film is so fast-paced that you´ll barely have time to think about it until after it´s over. Debut writing & directing team Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have an absolute flair for this fluff, with a machismo attitude, video game effects, and the best use of Google Earth I´ve seen yet. Statham is excellent – films like this and The Transporter are turning him into a solid B-movie star – though the film moves so fast that the supporting cast barely manages to register. Like its hero, film inevitably runs out of steam at the end with a predictable finale, but it´s a wild ride until then.
Depressingly realistic real-life story about the struggle to achieve success. Will Smith gives one of his best performances as a struggling salesman, down on his luck, endlessly trying to create a better life for himself and his son. Off-putting at first, almost unbearably downbeat, the film and Smith´s character eventually win you over with their dogged persistence. The ending, however, is far too abrupt; film seems to want to convey total success with a single accomplishment, but has to revert to on-screen text to actually finish the story. Italian director Gabriele Muccino´s first English-language film is exceptionally well made all around and stays true to form throughout; at times, however, it tugs at the heartstrings too hard – though it never feels overtly manipulative. Smith is in top form; his real-life son Jaden portrays his on-screen son here, and is mostly acceptable as the unfortunate child caught up in difficult circumstances.
Also opening this week is the Bobby (showtimes | IMDb), the Emilio Estevez-directed film about the assassination of Robert Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel on June 6, 1968. Ensemble film with an eclectic cast focuses on a variety of diverse characters who happen to be at the Hotel that day. Mixed-to-positive reviews from critics; Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne, Helen Hunt, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Elijah Wood, Lindsay Lohan, and many others star.
Also: Catch an advance screening of the Bill Condon´s high-profile musical Dreamgirls (showtimes | IMDb), starring Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and Beyonce Knowles, at Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům‘s Black Box on Thursday 8.2.