The Last King Of Scotland

 
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
Written by:Jeremy Brock, Peter Morgan
Starring: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washingt  Gillian Anderson, Simon McBurney
Released: February 1, 2007
Grade: A-

As an actor, you always hope that there’ll be one role that people will remember you for.   For Forrest Whitaker, it will be his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King Of Scotland.   Whitaker has won almost every critics award to date and he’s a short priced favourite to claim the upcoming Academy Award for best actor.

With the help of the British government, Idi Amin staged a coup and became the new Ugandan president in 1971.  He promised to bring freedom and prosperity to his country.  As the famous saying goes however “absolute power corrupts absolutely”.  Amin and his army killed those considered a threat to his government.   An estimated 300,000 people were slaughtered during his 8 year reign.

With the basic facts out the way, it’s worth point out that The Last King Of Scotland isn’t a history lesson.  In fact, the story doesn’t even centre on Amin.  It is told from the perspective of Nicholas Garrigan (McAvoy), a Scottish doctor who travelled to Uganda to give his life a purpose.  He was looking for adventure but also the chance to help the poverty stricken people of the third world society.

When Amin sprains his wrist in a car accident, Garrigan is asked to treat his injury.  The two bond quickly and Amin asks Garrigan to become his personal doctor.  He will live at the president’s home and is promised the chance to set up a medical network for the Ugandan people.  It’s an offer Garrigan can’t refuse.

Amin’s dictatorship soon grew and the world turned against him.  Journalists published savage articles about the human rights atrocities he was responsible for.  Garrigan was oblivious to this however.  He was living a well-to-do life and the President always treated him as a close adviser.  He felt these stories about Amin couldn’t possibly be true.  Or could they?

Whitaker’s performance is superb but equally deserving of praise is James McAvoy.  It’s a shame that he has been overlooked in this busy award season.  His charisma makes the film more upbeat and there are some light-hearted scenes between Whitaker and McAvoy early on.  The film becomes much darker in the final half hour and it was this element of the story that interested me most.  Now that he knew the truth, what was Garrigan going to do?

I am quickly becoming a fan of Scottish director Kevin Macdonald.  His last film was the documentary Touching The Void (which made my top 10 list in 2004).  In both films he has created interest and intrigue.  There is rarely a dull moment and the story is always building.  I have to make mention of the fantastic 70s sets and costumes.  It felt like I was looking at footage actually taken from that era.  Just wait till you see James McAvoy’s outfits.

Inspired by actual events and based on the novel written by Giles Foden (who makes a cameo in the film), The Last King Of Scotland deserves a strong recommendation.  It’s a very engaging tale.