LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, THE
Naïve young Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McEvoy) turns up in Uganda of the 70s at the time of the latest coup, with romantic notions of being able to help the less fortunate. Through a series of circumstances, he gets to meet the newly installed, post-coup President, General Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), who takes a liking to him and makes him the President's personal physician. Garrigan is at first oblivious to the ghastly reality of Idi Amin's destructive leadership and brutal oppression of opponents, and when his eyes are opened, he is horrified. But not before he has a deadly affair with one of Amin's wives, Kay (Kerry Washington), and not before he has caused more trauma rather than helped.
Review by Louise Keller:
Forest Whitaker's towering performance as Idi Amin is frighteningly realistic, in his portrayal of the larger-than-life violent, madman dictator president of Uganda. It's the performance of his career, as he displays infectious charm alongside callous violence. The Last King of Scotland is a potent film that superbly describes the volatile African climate of the day. Revealing much about the torrid times in the troubled continent and combining real events with fiction, the film tells an extraordinary story of a young Scottish doctor who is dazzled by power and sucked into a corrupt society.
Our journey is through the eyes of naive Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), whose idealistic spin of the globe after graduation sends him to Uganda. There he looks for three things - he seeks adventure, wants to make a difference, as well as have fun. He does all those things, although the difference he makes is far from what he might have imagined. When Dr Garrigan first sees Amin at a rally, he is impressed by the big man with the big voice who promises everything to the people. Amin is drawn to Garrigan for his decision-making ability and then because he is Scottish. Amin's fascination for Scotland's history and culture leads to incongruous scenes of native women singing Loch Lomond, with the African leader wearing a green kilt. The role of physician to the President has many facets as Garrigan discovers, including that of most trusted advisor. But while Amin respects the doctor's honesty, there are other times when he coldly tells him 'These do not concern you. You're nothing but a doctor - get out.'
Life soon becomes more and more complicated. Garrigan's hands become sullied firstly when he betrays one of Amin's ministers, and then embarks on a dangerous and passionate affair with Amin's beautiful third wife (Kerry Washington). The horrors of the regime become plain to see with shocking scenes and horrific repercussions from actions taken. Director Kevin Macdonald's adaptation of Giles Foden's award-winning novel makes full use of tight close ups, so effective as we see the sweat shining. This is a vital and disturbing film that exposes much that is ugly and corrupt. Yet it is a compelling and unique story that touches on the emotions and the circumstances that are in every way, extraordinary.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Weaving stories made up of the natural fibres of fact intertwined with the man-made fibres of fiction has lately taken filmmaking into brave new worlds that provide both insight and drama. Stephen Frears' The Queen comes immediately to mind. And director Kevin Macdonald showed how powerfully he can wrangle such material, too, with Touching The Void (2003), the dramatisation of an almost lethal mountain expedition. The Last King of Scotland presents him with another opportunity to use real events and people as dramatic fodder.
The question all such films must answer is how well do they play to an audience more interested in story telling than in history - while remaining faithful enough to history so as not to be preposterous (and anti-history). Macdonald's film answers this very well, and offers us a front row seat at one of Uganda's most troubled times, when foreign powers helped install Idi Amin as President. Little did they know - like our hero, the naïve Dr Garrigan - that Idi Amin was exactly the kind of person who should NOT hold power over a family farm, let alone a whole country.
Forest Whitaker's characterisation is both a reminder of Amin's buffoonery and his political brutality, not to mention incompetence, vanity and ignorance. But all these elements are bound together by an immature yet seductive sort of charm and a sly cunning. To gather these characteristics in one performance is pretty extraordinary, yet Whitaker does it with scary accuracy.
James McEvoy's Dr Garrigan is a tad less convincing, possibly because his medical credentials are never properly proven to us, so his total political naivitee coupled with his social ineptitude (or worse) unbalance him as a character.
But all the supporting cast are great, notably Simon McBurney as the flint hearted English diplomat Stone and Kerry Washington as the warm hearted Kay, who is fatally attracted to the young doctor. Tension is high throughout and the locations reverberate with authenticity. The film also offers undercurrents and subtexts for anyone keen to follow them, with ongoing relevance to our world today.
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VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH KEVIN MACDONALD
LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, THE (MA)
CAST: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Gillian Anderson, Simon McBurney
PRODUCER: Andrea Calderwood, Christine Ruppert, Charles Steel, Lisa Bryer,
DIRECTOR: Kevin Macdonald
SCRIPT: Jeremy Brock, Peter Morgan (novel by Giles Foden)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Anthony Dod Mantle
EDITOR: Justine Wright
MUSIC: Alex Heffes
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michael Carlin
RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 1, 2007