The Last King of Scotland Review
By David Kempler
Idi Amin Soso
For those of you who didn't live through the Idi Amin Dada era, you'll have to take our word for it that he was impossible to make into a more cartoonish character than he was in reality. That is one of the more interesting things of Forrest Whitaker's portrayal of the larger than life Amin. While it may seem that the performance is over the top, it isn't. Not even close to the top, actually. It falls short of just how nuts Amin was. This is no fault of Whitaker, who does a very fine job here, nor the fault of the director, Kevin Macdonald ("One Day in September"). Both are shackled, because showing the true horrors of Amin would have caused audiences to become sick to their stomachs and made them run to the exits. In one scene near the end we do get a taste and it's easy to understand why that is all we are given.
"The Last King of Scotland" is a valiant attempt to portray Amin and everyone does their job professionally. Despite everything being in place for a tremendous movie it falls a tad flat. No doubt, Whitaker will garner an Oscar nomination, and he will probably win, as well. It fits the general framework of great actor having gone unrewarded to date in combination with a powerful performance. The movie is all Whitaker all the time even though he is not on screen nearly as much as his Scottish doctor, Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy).
The story, fictional as far as the doctor is concerned, set against a real background of events, is of a young man in Scotland who upon becoming a doctor decides that he wishes to help those who need it the most. He also has a thirst for adventure from what appears to be a comfortable but unexciting home life. He picks Uganda by spinning a globe and having his finger land upon that country. To be honest, he landed on Canada the first time but it wasn't exotic enough.
Fast forward to Garrigan on a bus in Uganda where he is thrown into the middle of the coup that puts Amin into power. Through a series of highly unlikely events he becomes Amin's personal physician and more in what appears to be only a few seconds. Yes, it's silly but it almost works because Amin is silly.
As often happens to me at the cinema, during the screening I notice elements of previous films seeping into what I am watching. Macdonald brings in a touch of "Apocalypse Now" and a dash of "Midnight Express", I assume subconsciously. Certain scenes reminded me of the great Apocalypse in the way he used slightly blurring images against a spacey soundtrack. The "Midnight Express" allusion is in reference to a man driven to escape from his private hell. "The Last King of Scotland" pales in comparison to those two great movies but Whitaker does just enough to elevate this piece to respectability, although my view of it remains far below those of others who have seen it. You may think it's the best thing since the invention of air travel and since it will probably end up garnering Whitaker an Oscar it is certainly worth your time.