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Last King of Scotland

A movie directed by Kevin MacDonald

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Whitaker’s Oscar Winning Performance is Spot On

  • Dec 24, 2008
  • by
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 dictator, and all around madman,  loomed large in my life, not only because the man was a constant fixture in the late ‘70's, but also because his regime was one of the first international political intrigues I remember following with any interest.  Little was known and or written about the man, and he was almost totally eased from my mind until 2006's The Last King of Scotland, staring Forest Whitaker and James McAvoy was released and memories of that period came rushing back like acid reflux.

A funny, and dare I say weird name for a movie dealing with an African tyrant until one remembers-or first learns, whatever the case may be-that Uganda was once a British territory and Amin admired the Scottish greatly for their own struggle to throw off the yoke of British rule.  At one point in the movie Whitaker's Amin states that if he could be anything other than Ugandan, it would be Scottish.  Was he serious or delusional? who knows, but the association obviously stuck.          
The Story

Directed by Kevin MacDonald The Last King of Scotland is based on the 1998 novel by the same name written by English journalist Giles Foden.  The novel is an intertwining of historical fact and fiction, and the stories main protagonist, a young Scottish doctor named Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy - Shameless, State of Play, Early Doors) is a fictional character said to be based loosely on a British soldier who was close to Amin. 

In the movie as in the novel Garrigan, looking for adventure journeys to Uganda by chance just as Amin (Whitaker) is coming to power.  Chance and circumstance brings Garrigan and Amin together and a friendship develops in which Garrigan becomes one of Amin's closest advisors, as well as the family doctor.  It is in this later capacity that Garrigan meets and then subsequently (stupidly) has an affair with one of Amin's many wives, one Kay Amin (Kerry Washington - She Hate Me, Ray, Fantastic Four).  Amin finds out after the woman gets pregnant with Garrigan's child and seeks an abortion at a local village only to be dismembered.  Things don't go too well for Garrigan after this point.

My Thoughts

The Last King of Scotland is brilliantly acted by Forest Whitaker; indeed it is probably his best performance since 1992's The Crying Game. Whitaker is one of those actors that go largely unnoticed by the glitter machine that is Hollywood, but who consistently turn in Oscar worthy performances.  And indeed Whitaker took home the gold statue for his performance in The Last King of Scotland.  He became one of only four Black American men to win an Academy Award for Best Actor, following in the footsteps of Sidney Poitier (Lilies of the Field - 1963), Denzel Washington (Training Day -2001), and Jamie Foxx (Ray - 2005).  Whitaker also won a Golden Globe Award and a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award for his portrayal of Idi Amin Dada.

Whitaker does an extraordinary job as Amin portraying the man's many moods in a brilliant performance that never once does he go over the top. Whitaker's portrays Amin as a man with a sense of humor, a sometimes vulnerable, tender, and oft unfathomable man, but Whitaker never lets us forget that Amin was a maniacal monster. Whitaker embodies the role, channeling Amin and not merely acting a part, much like Helen Mirren's superb performance as the regal Elizabeth in The Queen, and Denzel Washington's equally stunning performance in Malcolm X.

James McAvoy, a virtual unknown outside of Great Britain, also turned in a laudable performance as the narcissistic, naïve young doctor who dived in way over his young, foolish, idealistic head and paid a heavy price.    

And the always beautiful Kerry Washington seemed right at home in her Ugandan garb as the young forgotten and lonely wife of Amin who foolishly takes Garrigan to her bed and womb. 
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.  The Last King is rolling commentary on the many complex and complicated layers of the human mind and soul; it is a cautionary tale on the terrible dangers of self-absorption, of manipulation, of betrayal, and of the lasting legacy of the European occupation and rape of Africa and her diverse peoples.    


Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Not suitable for Children of any age

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December 07, 2010
excellent breakdown! Thank you for the review!
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 . 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 …
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 …
About the reviewer
Vincent Martin ()
Ranked #187
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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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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