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October 2006
The Last King of Scotland

By Wilson Morales

The Last King of Scotland

Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Producers: Charles Steel, Lisa Bryer, Christine Ruppert, Andrea Calderwood
Screenwriters: Peter Morgan, Jeremy Brock
Cast: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Gillian Anderson

In the last few years, there have been stories on real life individuals where some liberties were taken for cinematic purposes, but for the most part the essence of the individual was stay true to form. We saw with Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles in “Ray”, Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes in “The Aviator”, and last year’s Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote in “Capote”. In a commanding performance that’s worthy of a Best Actor Oscar nomination, Forest Whitaker simply captivates the screen as Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland”. Though the world knows Amin as a ruthless dictator who murdered many and stole millions from his country, the film shows a side to Amin that gives reason why many had supported his tyranny and power.

McAvoy plays Nicholas Garrigan, a young Scottish doctor looking for a place in life where he can a part of something. When rebelling against the family to be on his own, he travels to Uganda and initially starts working to save the lives of children with the help of Sarah Merrit (Anderson). Upon arrival, he sees how the crowd responds jubilantly to the new leader in power, Idi Amin (Whitaker) and is further impressed and when he meets Amin and isn’t afraid to take control of a situation involving a cow with armed men surrounding him. Amin notices his boldness and take a liking to Garrigan, asking him to become his personal physician.

Life is great for Garrigan, having settled in Uganda, and being part of Amin’s inner circle, until his eyes awaken to Amin’s reign of terror. When politicians, and any of those who defied Amin’s authority, started missing or turning up dead, Garrigan can assume he’s in too deep to walk away. Not only that, but he’s entered into a dangerous affair with one of Amin’s wives, Kay (Washington) that puts his life in peril. As Amin insanely takes his power to another level, Garrigan is left with little hope of escaping the clutches of a madman.

As stated above, Whitaker’s performance is commanding enough that it outweighs the little flaws within the film. He captures the charisma, and arrogance that Amin showed to the public while underneath he was man who also feared for safety and with no one to tell him otherwise, took control of his fears as best, or ruthlessly, as he could. McAvoy, who’s best remembered as the fawn in “The Chronicles of Narnia”, matures with his character from a young lad thrilled with working with power and prestige and then growing into manhood as fear besieges him. Although his character is a composite of many men who surrounded and influenced Amin at some point, McAvoy turns in a solid performance illustrating such. Credit must also be given to the screenwriters for adapting the book from Giles Foden and compressing as many layers that they could into a solid film. Bringing politics into a film can sometimes be confusing with the jargon used but with Amin and Whitaker’s performance, it wasn’t difficult to see why the people loved and hated him. For the women in the film, Anderson has a thankless role as the married woman Garrigan tries to have an affair. Washington has a small but important role as Amin’s doomed third wife. One scene in particular will spark fear among the audience and illustrate Amin’s diabolical methods to capture attention. With ‘The Last King of Scotland”, we see brutality, we see politics, and we see the best performance of Forest Whitaker’s career.