Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Last King of Scotland

Title: The Last King of Scotland (2006)
Dir: Kevin Macdonald
Rating: ****1/2 out of 5 stars

I CALLED IT! I could tell from the trailers for The Last King of Scotland that Forest Whitaker would give the knock-out performance of the year and sweep the award shows. After finally seeing the film, I can confirm that prediction - he gives a 5-star performance in this 4-star movie. That is not to say the film is bad, but Whitaker really gives 150% here.

In the early 1970s, an ambitious Scottish doctor named Nicolas Garrigan (James McAvoy) goes to Uganda as a volunteer. There he meets the charming President Idi Amin (Whitaker), who becomes fond of the young man and soon hires him as a personal physician and advisor. As the years pass, Amin's erratic behavior turns into madness and he begins killing thousands of his own people. Nicolas can no longer deny his friend's insanity, and upon trying to go home, soon discovers that he too is Amin's prisoner.

Based on Giles Foden's novel of the same name, The Last King of Scotland blends fact with fiction. Garrigan was not exactly a real person, but placing the story from his perspective is a brilliant way of intimately portraying Amin and his descent into madness. And McAvoy does a great job in the role. Nicolas has a bit of Western arrogance in him, which is a comforting reminder that he is responsible for his own predicament and that the film is not trying to imply "white people good, black people bad". It also portrays many Uganda characters who fall victim to the dictator. The white man is not the shining hero in this, he is just a fool who gets caught up in a fascinating - but dangerous - world. And he provides some fantastic POV on the "Butcher of Uganda."

Macdonald's directing is pretty good, and he utilizes some great scenery. Some people criticize the film's brutal violence, but I think it is highly appropriate. You can't make a film about genocide without the shocking imagery. It really drives home the brutality of Amin's regime and the severeity of Garrigan's situation. The film would not be the same without it.

The Last King of Scotland is definitely worth seeing, if only for Whitaker's intense, spot-on portrayal of Idi Amin. It will surely inspire you to read about the dictator, who created a fascinating, albeit tragic, time for Uganda in the 1970s. Just don't expect the film to go easy on you. Brace yourself for all the bloody violence you'd expect from a textbook account of the events. The truth is never pretty, but you can still enjoy it through beautiful filmmaking.