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The Last King Of Scotland
cast: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Gillian Anderson, Kerry Washington, and Simon Burney

director: Kevin Macdonald

117 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Gary McMahon
The Last King Of Scotland is an interesting film in many ways, not least in its approach to essaying true-life events. An adaptation of the novel by Giles Foden, it uses the technique of placing a completely fictionalised character in a real-life situation to dramatise a moment in history. The setting is real, the major political events portrayed actually happened, but the protagonist never actually existed.

Nicholas Garrigan is fresh out of medical school and departs for Africa in search of laughs - sun, sex, and carefree thrills are high on his agenda, and the voluntary work he has signed up for is secondary to his hedonistic pursuits. He is ignorant of the political situation in Uganda, and as he arrives in the country a military coup is taking place. General Idi Amin, a product of the British military system, is assuming power, and on the surface everything looks rosy...

Garrigan sets to work with a couple of aid workers, David and Sarah Merrit (Adam Kotz, and a virtually unrecognisable Gillian Anderson), and almost embarks on an affair with Sarah - a situation only avoided because of her guilt at the prospect; the thrill-seeking Garrigan is most certainly game. After a chance meeting with the enigmatic General Amin, the man initially enchants Garrigan, and he accepts the position of Amin's personal physician. Gradually, the reality of the situation dawns on him, and Garrigan finds himself trapped within a framework of fear, repression and violence. Rather than the affable man-child he seems to be on the surface, General Amin proves to be something far more dangerous: a sociopath with paranoid delusions who experiences such intense rages that someone, somewhere always pays with their life.

Along the way, Garrigan has an affair with one of Amin's wives (which culminates in an unforgettable scene of atrocity), recruited as a reluctant spy by the passive British intelligence service, and is finally sucked into the Entebbe hostage crisis. The standout performance in the film is, of course, Forest Whitaker's amazing turn as Idi Amin, at once compelling and terrifying; a monstrous creation barely in control of his own emotions. Whitaker has long been a solid actor, but here he is given a role that he can truly inhabit, and the longer the film goes on the less of Forest Whitaker is onscreen: by the final scenes, we are watching Idi Amin, all trace of the performer has vanished.

McAvoy acquits himself well in the face of such a powerhouse performance, and his transformation from jovial fun-seeker to a man with a political conscience is very finely crafted. Anderson is very good, too, if underused, and she gives us a brief but welcome glimpse of her range as an actress.

The screenplay packs a lot into the running time, and if there is a flaw with the film it's that I wanted it to be longer, and to go into Amin's background and the horrors perpetrated in his name in greater detail. I recall a TV movie from 1981, The Rise And Fall Of Idi Amin, which showed the man's brutality to a greater extent - The Last King Of Scotland is a far better film than this, but I felt that some of the cruelty of Amin's regime was left a little too understated.

There is one great moment when, after he has expelled all Asian immigrants from Uganda, Amin sees the tactic backfire on him. He questions Garrigan for not warning him that this might happen. When Garrigan reminds the General that he did indeed warn him not to throw the Asians out of the country, Amin responds that Garrigan may have warned him, but he did not persuade him. It's a terrifying insight into a man who refused to accept the responsibility of his actions to the extent that he saw it as the duty of his advisors to talk him out of rash and impulsive acts.

The only bum-note is near the end, when Garrigan says, "You're just an overgrown child, and that's why you're so fucking scary." To be honest, it didn't need saying; we'd picked up on the fact throughout the duration of the film, and the line of dialogue seems like it's been forced into the character's mouth just to hammer the point home to anyone too stupid to get it. Otherwise, this is a terrific film: powerful, well acted, and directed with a seriousness of purpose that easily covers over any minor flaws.
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