The Last King of Scotland

Technically, The Last King of Scotland is a film about a young Scottish doctor who becomes the personal physician to Idi Amin. Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, played by James McAvoy, gradually realizes what Amin is and tries to escape with both his life and his soul. It’s an interesting moral dilemma, but it is not the reason you want to see this film.

You’re going to this film to see Forest Whitaker play Idi Amin. And you won’t be disappointed. You’ll also be pleasantly surprised by the main plot.

In the nightmare that Africa has been since European colonization, Idi Amin stands out. An uneducated thug, he rose in the ranks of the Ugandan colonial army mostly because of his willingness to do the dirty work and not ask any questions. He became a general and took power in a bloody coup. Amin became a symbol of savage evil but like many such men he was affable and charismatic.

In the movie he seduces our doctor, and we see Amin’s rise and fall through European eyes. The problem is that Dr. Garrigan is no Claudius; he doesn’t know how to play it smart and keep his head down. Garrigan is a doer, a hedonist who usually jumps in before thinking and even when he does pause and consider, he jumps in anyway. He’s attracted to Amin who is larger than life with volcanic passions that make him fun to be around as well as terrifying.

Forest Whitaker will get all kinds of rave reviews and prestigious award for his performance, and deservedly so. He captures perfectly both sides of Amin’s duality, the working class chumminess and the dark brutality. But let’s spare a few kind thoughts for James McAvoy who turns in a sympathetic performance as the doctor who just can’t control himself. He’s a witness to all this savage history and you see it mirrored in his face from the ecstatic early days to the mad paranoid end.

The Last King of Scotland isn’t just about one performance. It’s actually a great movie.

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