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Last King of Scotland

A movie directed by Kevin MacDonald

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How Dictators Rise...and Fall

  • Apr 18, 2007
THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND delves into the history of Ugandan leadership in the 1970s with gusto. One of the characters (Sarah, the doctor's wife) wisely observes that the crowds that fill the streets cheering as Idi Amin takes control from Milton Obote had the same reaction for the previous dictator and will have the same for the one who follows Amin. It is that aspect of this very fine film that hits home: the people desperately want to be ruled by a hero who will care for them and they maintain hope that each successive 'hero' will be better.

Director Kevin Macdonald bases his 'biography' on the fictionalized novel of the same name by Giles Foden, transformed into a fine screenplay by Jeremy Brock. In order for us to understand the full nature of Idi Amin the story is told through the eyes of a fresh young Scottish physician Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) who leaves his home looking of adventure and settles in Uganda as a mission doctor with Dr. David Merrit (Adam Kotz) and his beautiful wife Sarah (Gillian Anderson). Garrigan learns his role quickly, is attracted to Sarah, but Sarah is wise and turns Garrigan's attention to the rising problem of the overthrow of the Ugandan government by the enigmatic Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker). An incident occurs that draws Garrigan into Amin's favor and much against the advice of Sarah, Garrigan falls under the spell of Amin, becoming his official physician. The two men form a warm bond of friendship and trust and it is through this bond that we see the human aspect of Idi Amin, a man born poor but who has risen to power due much to the connection with the British he loathes.

Gradually Garrigan sees the inner workings of Amin's mind, his madness and his ever-increasing brutality as he faces a world as the dictator who will control everything. Garrigan has an unfortunate affair with one of Amin's wives Kay (the very beautiful and gifted Kerry Washington) and as the country is falling under the slaughtering of Amin, Garrigan finally sees his implication in the rule and undergoes the turnabout effects of Amin's brutal strategy. The film ends very quietly with and reenactment of the incident at Entebbe that brought the world's attention to the heinous dictator of Uganda.

Forest Whitaker is brilliant as Amin: he has obviously studied the man from newsreels and has been able to go beyond press reports to find the humble man who rose to power. McAvoy embodies the fictional physician and has far more screen time and a more sophisticated role than Whitaker and deserves more praise for this performance than he has received. The entire cast is excellent. For once a film about the violence that erupts too often in Africa pays more attention to characters and the gorgeous landscape of Africa than to fighting and killing: the evidence of Amin's mass murders is shown in photographs and the monstrosity his deeds is carefully focused on one particularly heinous death. The musical score by Alex Heffes uses native songs and rarely calls attention to itself - the mark of a brilliant composer. In the end THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND serves up a hefty slice of history altered by fiction to enhance the storyline but presents a case for how Amin came to power and the indomitable spirit of the people of Uganda despite the government. A fine film on many levels. Grady Harp, April 07

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More Last King of Scotland reviews
review by . October 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The Last King of Scotland is one of those movies that I just didn’t quite grasp. Unfortunately this is more likely to happen with me if the film is an Oscar type movie that gets gangbuster reviews.      Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) graduates with his MD. Rather than stay in Scotland and practice family medicine with his father, he spins the globe and (after his finger lands on Canada, he tries again) his finger lands on Uganda. He goes into the wilds of Uganda to join …
review by . December 24, 2008
Pros: Whitaker's outstanding performance.     Cons: Very few; could have been longer and more engaging.     The Bottom Line: Be prepared, The Last King of Scotland is a hard film to watch, much like Amin’s brutal reign was hard to comprehend and watch unfold on 1970’s era television.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. When I was a teenager Idi Amin Dada, Uganda's late, not-so-great …
review by . November 17, 2008
A mix of fiction and the truth   that leaves us sad, but wiser   the secrets of Idi Amin   as told by his advisor     A doctor leaves his Scottish home   to help folk in Uganda   he's soon caught up in Amin's world   seduced by propaganda     The dictator with two different sides   one charming, one insane   three hundred thousand people died   during his bloody reign …
review by . January 18, 2008
LAST KING OF SCOTLAND suffers from some of the same problems as HOTEL RWANDA. It is timid in its exploration of the atrocities committed by Idi Amin. While I have no interest in seeing horrible things happen to humans just for the sake of entertainment (I can watch HOSTEL if that's what interests me), I also feel that a true understanding of what Amin inflicted on his country is missing from this film. The way he's presented, he mostly seems like a charismatic but unstable leader, who become increasingly …
review by . May 14, 2007
As much as I enjoyed this film Forest Whitaker's portrayal of Idi Amin is frightening. When you first meet Amin he is fun, approachable and it was easy to find inspiration in his words and personality. Throughout the movie his personality changes from inspiring to paranoid and terrifying. Whitaker's performance flows naturally in and out of these two men trapped in one body. He never misplaces his anger in a sweet scene; his glints of admiration never seep out during a frenzied rant. Whitaker avoids …
About the reviewer
Grady Harp ()
Ranked #97
Grady Harp is a champion of Representational Art in the roles of curator, lecturer, panelist, writer of art essays, poetry, critical reviews of literature, art and music, and as a gallerist. He has presented … more
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Forest Whitaker delivers a ferociously commanding performance as bloodthirsty Ugandan president Idi Amin in Kevin MacDonald's THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND. Adapted from the novel by Giles Foden, the film recounts Amin's horrific reign through the eyes of a fictional character, Nick Garrigan (James McAvoy), a young doctor from Scotland who travels to Uganda hoping to do some good. Nick is more sanguine about new president Amin than is his counterpart Sarah Merrit (Gillian Armstrong), whose experience causes her to be skeptical of Amin's bombastic declarations. After an automobile accident, Nick is called in to treat the president's wounds. His authoritative behavior impresses Amin, who charms Nick into becoming his personal physician. Nick embraces his newfound life of luxury, but he is unable to grasp the reality of the situation. When he does finally realize the atrocities Amin is inflicting upon his people (and is also capable of inflicting on Nick), the terrified doctor tries to make a frantic escape bef...

As the evil Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, Forest Whitaker gives an unforgettable performance in The Last King of Scotland. Powerfully illustrating the terrible truth that absolute power corrupts absolutely, this fictionalized chronicle of Amin's rise and fall is based on the acclaimed novel by Giles Foden, in which Amin's despotic reign of terror is viewed through the eyes of Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a Scottish doctor who arrives in Uganda in...
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Director: Kevin Macdonald
Genre: Drama
Release Date: January 12, 2007
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: October 13, 2009
Runtime: 123 min
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures
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