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Last King of Scotland

A movie directed by Kevin MacDonald

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Charismatic performances...but a problem filled script.

  • Jan 18, 2008
  • by
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 paranoid and blithely knocked off his inner-circle of advisors left and right. He did do these things...but he inflicted so much more agony too. If a viewer came to Idi Amin for the first time through this movie, they would wonder what much of the fuss is about. It needs to show the SCALE of the horrors this man inflicted...just like HOTEL RWANDA needed to show us the true face of those atrocities.

A movie like SCHINDLER'S LIST made the holocaust a personal story, but also showed the horrors on a broad scale. LAST KING OF SCOTLAND could have done the same. (Although no doubt not as powerfully...that was Spielberg's finest effort, after all).

But this disappointment aside, there is much to admire about this excellent film, starting WITH the charismatic performance by Forest Whitaker. Whitaker is never less than compelling to watch. We see many facets of Amin...from bold leader, to national hero, to simpering child, to loving father, to paranoid lunatic, to delusional monster. Whitaker makes the man likeable for much of the film...which is important, because he is viewed mostly through the eyes of a young, white British doctor (James McAvoy) who is enticed to join Amin's inner circle. If Whitaker played him as just a nut-case, why would McAvoy ever allow himself to become part of the "team?" Whitaker has always been a very good actor, with a wide range. But his Amin is the shining high point of his career thus far. He digs into this character with great intensity...I doubt the sweat that's always beading on his face was created by the makeup team. He looks like a guy always on the brink of exploding...whether in raucous laughter or frightening rage.

The script hints at the horrible things Amin is up to...but Amin himself never references them. He hides the truth from McAvoy...and thus from us. We feel as though the good doctor is anxious to get away from Amin only because he fears for his own life...not because he's seen what is happening to the country of Uganda. While Whitaker more than delivers on his responsibilities to present Amin as the dangerous tyrant he was...the script allows few opportunities to show what Amin DID.

So McAvoy is sometimes left looking more mildly concerned than terrified and outraged. Later in the film, he suffers a personal tragedy and this energizes him...but for a lot of the movie, I was wondering how in the world he was so oblivious. McAvoy (ATONEMENT) is a charming and capable actor...but he comes across as a bit of a lightweight in comparison to Whitaker's booming presence. But the way his character was developed (and the doctor IS the lead role), there probably wouldn't be many actors who could have made the part as interesting as Amin. (Although here's another problem with the script: McAvoy's character is fictional, so part of me felt that the filmmakers were wary of showing the story through any point of view other than that of a white person. So often the plight of minorities is depicted through the eyes of the white majority...MISSISSIPPI BURNING is the first example that pops to mind, but there are lots of others.)

The film also offers a brief but lovely performance from Gillian Anderson, hair dyed blonde and skin deeply bronzed. At first, I just enjoyed seeing how different she looked from Dana Scully...but ultimately I was captured by her quiet charisma. Sadly, she is only in the first third or so of the film.

The film also has beautiful cinematography. The film stock was highly saturated, making the colors richer than real life. This has the effect of conveying not only the beauty of the land, but the intense heat.

Despite my problems with the way the script decided to tell this story, and with its assumption that we all remember the famous "Raid on Entebbe" that brought Amin to the world's attention...I still recommend the film highly. Whitaker certainly gave a performance worthy of Oscar consideration, and the story we do get is fascinating. I'm frustrated it wasn't more...but I very much was engaged in what we were given.

This is the kind of film that will have folks hitting the internet for more information of Idi Amin. That can't be a bad thing.

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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 . 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 …
review by . April 18, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
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I've got my own site, www.afilmcritic.com, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … 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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