The Last King of Scotland
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary By Director Kevin Macdonald; Making Of Documentary; Deleted Scenes; Making Of Featurette.
SEVERAL films have recently attempted to expose the brutality of certain African regimes by paying tribute to the heroism and sacrifice of those forced to live in the grip of some terrifying dictators.
Hotel Rwanda and Shooting Dogs are two fine examples of movies that tackled the genocide in Rwanda, which was largely ignored by the world when it took place.
Kevin Macdonald’s brilliant The Last King of Scotland focuses on a different African nation, Uganda, and exposes the reign of terror unleashed by dictator Idi Amin.
Yet rather than populating the picture with heroic figures attempting to do good in impossible circumstances, the film unfolds from a different perspective that boldly challenges viewers own perceptions of evil.
Based on the novel by Giles Foden, the film picks up as fictional Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) heads to Uganda in search of some excitement and adventure.
Painfully ignorant of the suffering around him, Garrigan wants to do good – but craves some fun as well.
Hence, when he meets the country’s new leader Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker) at the scene of a roadside accident and is subsequently offered the chance to become his personal physician, Garrigan accepts the invitation.
Amin, it appears, offers Uganda a new kind of hope and Garrigan is instantly seduced by his outgoing charisma and passion for all things Scottish.
But as the young doctor settles into his new life of luxury, he slowly becomes aware of the shocking truth behind Amin’s iron-fisted rule and becomes desperate to escape the tyranny.
An ill-advised affair with one of the dictator’s wives (played by Kerry Washington) merely complicates matters still further and places his own life in danger.
The Last King of Scotland is a brave film on so many levels because it attempts to take a different approach to a familiar subject.
Early on, it keeps things fairly light-hearted as Garrigan builds his relationship with Amin, before changing tone dramatically towards the end and fully exposing the extent of Amin’s atrocities.
Such a shift could have been awkward if not handled correctly but Macdonald handles it with considerable ease.
And he also draws some terrific performances from an excellent cast. McAvoy is brilliant as Garrigan, whose naive, even selfish attitude towards Africa is designed to reflect that of the world looking on.
His idealistic doctor is constantly prone to moments of arrogance and stupidity and only realises the extent of his ignorance once it’s too late. It’s a tribute to McAvoy’s skill that such an unsympathic character remains so root-worthy.
His performance, though, is somewhat overshadowed by Whitaker’s. As Amin, the actor manages to combine moments of humour and charm with others of terrifying fury, thereby achieving the difficult task of finding humanity within a tyrant. Yet by doing so, he capably demonstrates how people could have become so captivated by his charisma while living in fear of his terror.
It’s difficult to take your eyes off the screen whenever he is around, especially since the actor has captured the essence of the man – both physically and mentally – in such a convincing manner.
It’s a performance to rival Bruno Ganz’s portrayal of Hitler in The Downfall and one for which the term “Oscar-worthy” was designed.
There’s equally strong support, too, from the likes of Kerry Washington, as Amin’s ill-fated wife, Simon McBurney, as a shady British diplomat, and Gillian Anderson, as an aid worker.
Hence, The Last King of Scotland amuses and shocks in equal measure while providing audiences with another stern examination of another dark chapter in recent African history that contains many startling parallels with events today.
It’s intelligent and provocative cinema at its absolute best.
Running time: 2hrs 5mins