"THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND"
by Kevin Carr
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|| MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Forest Whitaker as GENERAL IDI AMIN DADA
James McAvoy as DR. NICHOLAS GARRIGAN
Kerry Washington as KAY AMIN
Gillian Anderson as SARAH MERRIT
Simon McBurney as NIGEL STONE
David Oyelowo as DR. THOMAS JUNJU
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
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While I remember hearing about Ugandan dictator Idi Amin as a child, I don’t remember who he was. I just remember that he was a bad guy. While some might say that I remember this because history is written by the winners, I imagine that no matter how you look at Amin’s life, he’s gonna come across as a bad guy.
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Of course, that didn’t stop Kevin Macdonald from making a film that presents him in a relatively decent light. Still, even with quite a few concessions and omissions from the film, Amin comes across as a nut case. And I guess that’s pretty accurate to history.
“The Last King of Scotland” stars Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin, a role which earned him an Oscar. Instead of being about Amin himself, the movie follows a fictional doctor named Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), who becomes Amin’s personal physician.
The story is really Garrigan’s story, and Amin serves as both a supporting friend and eventually an antagonist. While this was an interesting approach to a biopic, I didn’t think it served the story as well as it could. The movie kept getting distracted by Garrigan’s life. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was showing his consistent reaction to Amin, but instead the film actually subordinated Amin to more of a supporting role.
With the exception of fabricating the doctor’s character, most of the film is based in reality. It introduces Amin on the eve of his ascension to power. Garrigan gets involved with him by helping him out with a medical issue on the side of the road. Over the years, Amin brings Garrigan into his inner circle. Eventually Garrigan understands Amin’s true colors and tries to escape Uganda.
In an effort to be as fair as he could, director Macdonald shies away from the more notorious stories of Idi Amin – or at the very least, he manages to make these things happen off-screen. This makes sense in the context of the story focusing on Garrigan, but it softens the film’s impact by making the most exciting and interesting moments ancillary to the general action of the plot.
It’s not that I wanted to see Amin walking around, munching on a severed human leg through the film, but I found myself craving more and more of him in the spotlight. Perhaps this was because Whitaker’s performance was so phenomenal and compelling that it mopped the floor with McAvoy and the rest of the cast.
Indeed, without Forest Whitaker, “The Last King of Scotland” would have fallen into obscurity and been forgotten during awards season. It is Whitaker’s performance that carries the film through to its conclusion, and it’s Whitaker that kept the film alive when everyone was handing him Best Actor statuettes.
The DVD comes with Macdonald’s commentary, some deleted scenes with commentary, the movie’s trailers, an informative documentary about Idi Amin, and two spotlights on Forest Whitaker as an actor.
Ultimately, “The Last King of Scotland” is worth checking out just to see Whitaker’s performance alone. It would have been nice to have had more of the King and less of the Scotland, but I’ll take what I can get.
Specifications: Dolby Digital 5.1 Sound. Widescreen (2.35:1) – enhanced for 16x9 televisions. English subtitles for the hearing impaired.