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January 30, 2007 > The Last King of Scotland- A Movie Review

The Last King of Scotland- A Movie Review

By Joe Samagond

The Last King of Scotland (2006) is based on the novel by Giles Foden about the rise and rule of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. I recall the time - mid to late 70s - when Amin ruled with brutality amidst dark tales of cannibalism. The film relives Amin's barbaric reign through the eyes of Nick Garrigan (James McAvoy), a young doctor from Scotland who travels to Uganda hoping to do some good while also escaping the homeland he finds stifling.

Director Kevin MacDonald works masterfully with screenwriters Peter Morgan (The Queen) and Jeremy Brock (Mrs. Brown) to present an interesting story with a touch of fiction. Idi Amin was real, the doctor is purely a work of fiction. Nonetheless, the movie deftly displays Garrigan's seduction as he is flattered and fascinated by his new position as personal physician to the President. He genuinely believes that he is helping Amin to build a new and happy Uganda. Gradually he realizes that Amin is not the benevolent man of the people he imagined.

Director MacDonald brings 1970s Uganda to life, recreating that tumultuous era. But the film belongs to Whitaker: as he quickly shifts from charming to maniacal. Very convincing, it is easy to see why he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor. Garrigan soon awakens to Amin's savagery - and his own complicity in it. Horror and betrayal ensue as Garrigan tries to right his wrongs and escape Uganda alive; not an easy task.

In the realm of movies that depict seductive, evil men of power who easily smile while they ruthlessly slaughter and maim, this movie is a bloodstained achievement. Ultimately it is about the lure of power in a forgotten country. As the good doctor himself says, it is meant to show a white face bringing salvation to a backward country. How colonial and so 20th century!

The story meanders at times. A misplaced subplot in which Nick sleeps with one of Amin's wives (Kerry Washington) is not only ridiculous but also distracting, especially given what we already know about Nick's relationship with the despot. On the other hand, the hijacking event of the 70s - when Palestinian terrorists hijack an Air France plane and it lands in Entebbe in Uganda is an interesting side note. It also gives Amin a brief moment of international spotlight while bringing Garrigan close to brutal death with the faint possibility of an escape.

Within The Last King of Scotland's explosive mix of fact and fiction, Whitaker's expansive performance ultimately commands the screen. It's one of those uncannily convincing performances, that is very, very impressive. At 2 hours in duration, the movie seems to run about the right length telling a story whose dark side persistently hangs just below the surface with an occasional splash that can be jarring.

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