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Overall Rating
3.26

Awesome: 27.66%
Worth A Look: 19.15%
Average: 4.26%
Pretty Bad48.94%
Total Crap: 0%

5 reviews, 17 user ratings


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Last King of Scotland, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"You Can Hardly See the Forest For The Twee"
2 stars

One might expect a film featuring General Idi Amin, the flamboyant and colorfully depraved figure whose run as President of Uganda began almost as a joke in 1971 and ended in sorrow and violence eight years later with over 300,000 of his countrymen dead as a result of his iron-fisted rule, to take any number of forms but I would venture to guess that a virtual remake of the barely-remembered “Playing God” (best known today for an early appearance by Angelina Jolie) would not be one them. And yet, that is exactly what we have in “The Last King of Scotland,” a weirdly conceived and largely failed exercise that takes an astonishing true story and reduces it to the level of a banal soap opera–words that you wouldn’t expect to be necessary when talking about a film involving a dictator often accused of eating the flesh of his enemies.

Based on the novel by Giles Foden, the film stars James McAvoy as Nicholas Garrigan, a young Scottish lad who, after finishing medical school, impulsively decides to flee his oppressive home for someplace more exotic. Picking Uganda off a globe, he goes there to work in a local clinic run by an overworked British couple (Gillian Anderson and Adam Kotz). Garrigan’s life soon changes dramatically when, through a chain of circumstance involving a dying cow, he meets the newly installed President Amin (Forest Whitaker) and impresses him enough to be offered the job of his personal physician. Garrigan puts up a token struggle but compared to the life of luxury Amin is offering, living in a simple village and vaccinating poor children invariably will always come in second place.

At first, all is swell and Garrigan is happily swept up in the wildness of Amin’s regime. Before long, however, it begins to dawn on him that things aren’t all that rosy–Amin begins demonstrating terrifying mood swings, a shady British government attache (Simon McBurney) begins telling him tales of various atrocities and when Garrigan suggests that a rival co-worker may not be completely on the level, he is shocked when the guy disappears and then turns up suffering from an acute case of brutal death. To further add to his problems, the self-destructive Garrigan begins an affair with one of Amin’s wives (Kerry Washington) and when she becomes pregnant as a result, there is no telling what the increasingly unhinged Amin might do to them.

While many of the details about Amin seen in “The Last King of Scotland” are true, the character of Garrigan is pretty much a complete fiction–Amin did have a Scotsman as his personal physician but he was an older gentleman–and one of the problems with the film is that the character never feels like anything other than a gateway that allows us to see Idi Amin through the eyes of an outsider. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea but would it have been that much of a problem to have one of Amin’s own countrymen–maybe a bodyguard or an aide–serve that purpose instead of the white Scottish bloke? Actually, I probably wouldn’t have even minded that character so much if director Kevin Macdonald had given us a reason to show any rooting interest in him. Alas, Garrigan is self-centered, obnoxious and dangerously oblivious to what is going on around him–worse still, he, as played by McAvoy, is thoroughly dull and unlikable while being all of those things. Towards the end, he is trying desperately to save his own skin after running permanently afoul of Amin (which leads to a torture scene that suggests that the ruler was a big fan of “A Man Called Horse”) and I for one found myself rooting for Amin’s men to nab him before his escape and give him what he so richly deserves.

There is one standout element to be found in “The Last King of Scotland,” however, and that is the thrilling and terrifying work by Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin. This is a role that all but invites an actor to indulge in scenery-chewing overplaying but Whitaker never goes off the deep end into histrionics. Instead, he gives us a portrait of a man who, like the Jack Nicholson character in “The Departed,” plays up his madman image in public in order to inspire fear and respect in his subjects but who can downshift in a second into a far more measured and business-like approach that can be even more terrifying. It is a great performance, the best that Whitaker has delivered since his turn as Charlie Parker in “Bird,” and it is paradoxically the best and worst thing about “The Last King of Scotland”–it is the best because it shows that he has the chops to bring such a complex character to life and the worst because it makes you wish that he had been given the chance to do it in a film that deserved it.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=15083&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/06/06 14:26:01
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2006 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2006 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/24/10 Jeff Wilder Whittaker delivers a commanding performance. 4 stars
5/16/09 R.W. Welch Hoked up history, but acting is first class. C+ 3 stars
3/29/09 Ry I film that presents no good or hope. 2 stars
11/24/08 Shaun Wallner Very Boring! 2 stars
8/18/08 Vincent Great - not a dull moment 5 stars
8/06/08 Braniff Whitaker as Amin is fantastic! Don't miss the movie!! 5 stars
7/12/08 John Millheim wow, this makes you think how lucky we are to be american 5 stars
1/15/08 pablo eneas great cast, but very predictable; and the link with a true story it's basically a lie 2 stars
11/26/07 C.O.L. A brilliant piece of acting encapsulated in an ok film 4 stars
7/16/07 Hello Stranger great acting althou the plot doesn't really move forward till the last quarter of the movie 4 stars
6/25/07 fools♫gold If I give this 5 stars, then I've underrated "The Ninth Gate". 95% 5 stars
4/21/07 action movie fan whitaker is outstanding but nothing else is 2 stars
2/10/07 Karl The young doctor was so annoying, i couldnt concentrate enough on the plot. 2 stars
1/18/07 MP Bartley Whitaker is fierce but it's light on context and McAvoy is so annoying you want him to die. 3 stars
12/08/06 Ancaster Film Fest Best of TIFF for me. Whitaker great! If you liked McAvoy rent Rory O'Shea was Here. 5 stars
12/07/06 Ole Man Bourbon Forrest Whitaker's best performance, and he's had some great ones. Entertaining and freaky. 5 stars
10/12/06 AMINA EXCELLENT MOVIE FORREST WHITTAKER WAS GREAT AND SO WAS JAMES MCAVOY. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  27-Sep-2006 (R)
  DVD: 17-Apr-2007

UK
  18-Oct-2006

Australia
  01-Feb-2007



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