The Last King Of Scotland

THE QUICK HIT: Previously a respected documentarist (his One Day in September won an Oscar), Macdonald humanizes the story of Ugandan president and madman Idi Amin’s rise to power by telling it through Amin’s naïve, if idealistic, Scottish physician. The Last King Of Scotland was shot on location in Uganda and utilizes archival footage for yet another layer of authenticity.

THE BIG PICTURE: At the start of this film the stage is set: newly minted doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) is a child of privilege and bored of his parents’ expectations. He spins a globe to decide where to ply his trade. Comically the first spin lands on Canada, so he spins again—Uganda.

Assigned to a small, hopelessly understaffed practice in the Ugandan countryside run by the ever on-call Dr. Merrit (Adam Kotz) and his gorgeous wife Sarah (Gillian Anderson), frisky Nicholas seemed poised for successful a seduction of Sarah—that’s until a chance meeting with the new charismatic Ugandan leader Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker) changes everything.

Part of the real beauty of this film is the lack of clear heroes. Nicholas is hardly pure—he manages to get laid even just meeting a local girl on the bus ride from the airport to his new post in the countryside. His arrogance allows him to think he has a better grasp of Ugandan politics than the jaded British ex-pats and cultural attachés he encounters. If that weren’t enough, he begins an affair with one of his new patron’s wives! He’s in over his head and too foolish to realize it until it’s too late. McAvoy, previously seen as faun Mr. Tumnus in Chronicles of Narnia sinks his teeth into this meaty role, and if not likeable, he’s always credible.

What strange whim of casting puts droopy-eyed American icon Forest Whitaker in the slot of Idi Amin? A very shrewd whim. Whitaker creates an Idi Amin who is at once charming and terrifying—your best friend and worst enemy rolled into one. Back story on Amin is deftly woven into conversations Amin has with his new Scots physician. Through this technique we learn more about Amin than five years’ worth of news reels could show us.

Some movies are “good for us,” such as An Inconvenient Truth. And while we’ve all heard that those who ignore history are destined to repeat it, this movie is far better entertainment than just some pill you need to swallow. The Last King Of Scotland’s action is gripping, the story developments startling even though we already know the major plot details, and the acting is top-notch. Although history will remember Amin as a mass-murderer and psychopath, The Last King of Scotland lets us see the man behind the madness.

TECHNICAL MUMBO-JUMBO: Whitaker must have taken quite a wage cut to get this film down to a six-million-dollar budget. Shot primarily on location in Uganda.

Grade: B+

DIRECTOR: Kevin Macdonald
CAST: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Gillian Anderson, Kerry Washington

Review by Sha Harrison