It might be dark and miserable every January (well, here in London at least) but it is usually a great time to visit the cinema as a lot of films in contention for awards are getting released now.
This week sees the red hot favourite for the Best Actor Oscar hit UK screens and what a performance it is as Forest Whitaker stars as former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. A riveting adaptation of Giles Foden’s semi-fictional novel. The story involves a young Scottish doctor (James McAvoy) who travels to Uganda and by chance and opportunity becomes Amin’s personal physician. Initially charmed by the leader he slowly realises the awful truth about regime he has become part of. Directed by Kevin MacDonald (the man responsible for the brilliant documentaries One Day in September and Touching the Void) it is cleverly written, well acted and features a truly mesmerising central performance from Whitaker.
Another film out this week with an impressive lead performance is The Pursuit of Happyness, in which Will Smith leaves his usual wisecracking persona at home. He stars in this true life tale of a salesman in San Francisco during the early 80s who struggles to cope financially when he seeks a better job. Although this has been marketed as an uplifting syrupy drama it is actually a moving and accomplished drama with Smith doing his best work since Ali and Six Degrees of Separation. Italian director Gabriele Muccino gives a fresh perspective to the source material and – despite the overall nature of the story – explores poverty with a sharper eye than you might expect for a mainstream studio film.
Director Joe Carnahan impressed with 2002’s gritty cop drama Narc, but with his latest film he has overstretched himself. Smokin’ Aces is about a mob entertainer (Jeremy Piven) who is targeted by several assassins who have all been hired to bump him off. Two FBI agents (Ray Liotta and Ryan Reynolds) must ensure that he stays alive and travel to his Lake Tahoe hotel where, eventually, all hell breaks loose. It features a lot of jumbled narrative flashbacks and some slick editing but despite a few effective scenes here and there comes across as a confusing and messy B-movie. Think the Wacky Races (with hit men) crossed with Ocean’s 11 – only done badly.
FILM OF THE WEEK: The Last King of Scotland