THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND
The charisma, magnetism and murderous madness of King
PopcornReel.com Movie Review: "The Last King of Scotland"
By Omar P.L. Moore/September 28, 2006
Forest Whitaker uses
charisma, panache and powerful dynamism to enthuse his brilliant Idi Amin
portrayal in "The Last King of Scotland". Second photo: On the
throne with James MacAvoy (background left, as the Scottish doctor and close
advisor to Amin). (All photos by Neil Davidson unless otherwise stated.)
Kevin Macdonald's film pulses with politics, tension, sex
and graphic violence -- yet it stands still when Forest Whitaker makes his
presence felt. From the moment he arrives on the scene, the hearts and
pulses of the audience -- both on screen and off -- race. Whitaker plays
Uganda's infamous dictator Idi Amin, a paranoid, yet charismatic man who
authorized the murders of over 300,000 of his fellow countrymen and women.
Though Amin died in exile in August of 2003 in Saudi Arabia, Whitaker -- a sure
Oscar nominee for his riveting acting here -- brings him very much alive.
There is a visceral depth and weight to the actor, and Whitaker's relentless
jolliness, enthusiasm and physical movement parallels and captures Amin almost
to a tee.
Alas, "The Last King of Scotland" is not about Amin, but about the
newly-graduated Scottish doctor -- a fictional character -- who is voluntarily
heads to Uganda, and after fixing the dictator's hand (and killing a cow with
Amin's gun) becomes Amin's personal physician and closest advisor. This
fictional film starts with the disclaimer that it was "inspired by real people
and events", but with such loose nomenclature it is hard to say which parts of
the film happened and which did not. James McAvoy plays Nicholas Garrigan,
the philandering doctor -- it seems he spends as much time hitting on the women
he encounters and tries to (or succeeds in) having sexual encounters with
married women -- as he does healing patients. (Perhaps an uneasy and
bizarre take on sexual healing??) For all his expertise in the medical
profession, Garrigan doesn't makes things better for himself, as he eventually
realizes that he is in too deep with a regime that is extravagantly
bloodthirsty. Idealistically, Nicholas is so very committed to and
entranced by the despotic Amin that he is blinded to the carnage in the hills
and valleys of Uganda. Despite the frequent needling by a British
intelligence operative (played by Simon McBurney of "Friends With Money"),
Nicholas' judgment about some perceptions about African-controlled countries
that have gained sovereignty from white-colonialist rule on the African
continent does not get the better of him.
Sowing the seeds of
passion: James McAvoy and Kerry Washington in "The Last King of Scotland".
The real-life Idi Amin at the United Nations in 1975. (Photo: Associated
As Garrigan, McAvoy has a confident swagger and charm that almost matches
Whitaker's booming, charismatic and thundering Amin. Watching their
chemistry on screen is a treat -- as actors their characters seduce each other
-- and that's what engages the viewer. Amin is entranced by Garrigan, and
Garrigan is enraptured by Amin. The chemistry between Whitaker and McAvoy
is what the hallmark of great acting is all about. Their characters'
relationship is the heart of the film. Gillian Anderson plays a small role
as a fellow doctor who is left to care for the children in another part of
Uganda after the "good" doctor is called away to join Amin. Kerry
Washington plays Kay, an embattled wife of Idi Amin who makes the "minor"
mistake of engaging in adultery.
As indicated, "The Last King of Scotland" focuses less on politics than on
relationships. Edges of Uganda's political situation are flashed at us
serving almost expressly to illuminate and amplify the mental state of Amin and
his deteriorating grasp on reality and descent into madness. Neil
Macdonald directs the film in various stages: calmly, methodically, frenzied and
frantic, and heated. All around, the acting is stirring, even though the
film falls into a couple of lulls once the relationship dynamics between Amin
and Garrigan are fleshed out. The climax of the film centers around the
real-life Israeli hostage situation and that is woven delicately into the
narrative, and used as a skillfully convenient plot point. If nothing
else, the film's central relationship is riveting and full of interest, even if
other parts of the film's story are standard.
Copyright 2006. PopcornReel.com. All Rights Reserved.
"The Last King of Scotland" is rated R for some strong violence and gruesome
images, sexual content and language. Be warned: the film features a
"Passion of the Christ" moment which will shock and disturb some viewers.
The film is written by Peter Morgan and Jeremy Brock and based on Giles Foden's
novel. The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle.
The film's running time is two hours and one minute in length.