- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © Fox Searchlight
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
uch like the monstrous dictator for which the film is titled, “The Last King of Scotland” is incredibly charming, yet still tragically unfamiliar to a good portion of the American public. Directed by acclaimed documentarian Kevin Macdonald, the film has absolutely nothing to do with the British-ruled nation, but does draw an interesting parallel between the unjust governing of the Scottish and the inhabitants of several African countries. Those not looking for a history lesson on British rule, however, will be happy to know that you needn’t know anything about the aforementioned conflict to enjoy this movie, because while the historical aspects of the story are certainly important, they come in a distant second to the real issue at hand: how to make a monster like Ugandan leader Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker) appear human without seeming sympathetic.
Taking place in 1971 at the cusp of Amin’s rule, the film stars James McAvoy as Nicholas Garrigan, a recently graduated Scottish doctor who travels to Uganda to serve a small village in desperate need of medical care. Soon after arriving in the country, Garrigan is introduced to the larger-than-life Amin when he’s called upon to mend the general’s wounds obtained in a car accident. Immediately taken with Garrigan’s brash attitude and Scottish heritage, Amin enlists the young doctor to become his personal physician. Seduced by the idea that his service to Amin would indirectly result in the improvement of health care throughout the entire country, Garrigan accepts the position only to discover that Amin isn’t quite the gratious dictator he was led to believe.
Frankly, “The Last King of Scotland” isn’t that great of a film. Most of the performances either feel subdued or completely unnecessary (I’m looking at you, Gillian Anderson), and the pacing resembles that of a mediocre documentary – lots of footage, but nothing particularly informative. Luckily, none of this really matters when you’ve got a great actor like Forest Whitaker behind the reins of one of the year’s most magnetic characters. To say he succeeds in his portrayal of Amin would be to take his performance lightly. This is a powerful performance of the utmost degree; one in which the actor brilliantly depicts both the general’s playful seduction of the media and the murderous treatment of his people in a manner worthy of comparison to guys like Hussein and Hitler.
And while Whitaker will surely receive an Oscar nomination for his work, it’s doubtful that he’ll triumph over more commercial alternatives. It’s a shame really, since this is the most emotionally-charged performance that many people will see all year. Or perhaps that’s the problem – many people haven’t seen this movie, and they probably never will. If Whitaker were to win, it would surely be a welcome change from the awards ceremony’s usual pattern of recognizing the most obvious nominee with a golden statue, but then, what would the Academy Awards be without a few letdowns?
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
"The Last King of Scotland" finally makes its way to Blu-ray, and considering the grainy, documentary-style look of the film, it's better than expected. All of the bonus material has also been brought over, including an audio commentary with director Kevin MacDonald, deleted scenes, a short interview with Forest Whittaker about playing the famed dictator, a featurette on casting the role, and the 29-minute “Capturing Idi Amin,” which is one-part documentary on the real man and one-part making-of featurette.