2018’s rather drab Entebbe casts minds back to fondly reminisce about representations of charismatic mass–murderer Idi Amin, whose genocide made exploitation fodder for this lurid 1980 feature, a popular VHS video in the early 80’s when literally anything went in terms of home entertainment. Amin was played by the late Yaphett Kotto in 1977’s Raid on Entebbe, and was a regular feature on the council telly evening news, but Sharad Patel’s epic was arguably the authority on the subject until Kevin Macdonald’s Oscar-winning The Last King of Scotland
Played by Kenyan actor Jospeh Olita, Amin is a mischievous, brutal presence, seen at one point casually slicing off a mouthful of human flesh or opening a fridge where a supply of human heads are cooling within. There’s no whitewash here, or much searching for evidence, just the dramatization of tabloid headlines. And yet a plotline about Amin’s relationship with a British journalist, arrested and imprisoned by Amin’s regime in defiance of the UK’s interests, feels authentic, not least because the character is played by the actual journalist (Denis Hills) who crossed Amin’s path.
So here we see Amin’s rise, with help from his friends in the West, who turned against Amin when his methods in holding power led to actions beyond the pale. A war with Tanzania, the Entebbe raid, all get a portrayal here, but without much of the sanctimonious chat that usually goes with a war theme. Instead, it’s all blood and thunder, yet somehow cuts to the quick of what needs to be said.
Moments of Paul Greengrass-style verisimilitude adds vividness to the proceedings, but there’s also an admirable directness to the way Amin’s hubris and downfall are captured. Whether this all happened like this or not, and this critic isn’t suggesting for a moment that it was, it’s compelling to watch a film so contemporaneous as a primary source; Amin’s regime fell less that a year before the film’s release. And this is a film that could use a little modern excavation; it’s hard to believe Wikipedia’s estimate that the film cost $26 million, and that it supposedly made $36 million at the box office seems like the kind of fanciful lie that Amin himself would have approved of.
And this trailer is fairly full on, so be warned if you’re squeamish…