Monday 29 January 2007

The Last King of Scotland (2006) - ickleReview (cinema)

Kevin Macdonald usually makes documentary films such as One Day in September (2000) and Touching the Void (2003). The Last King of Scotland is a film based on fact but moulded into a filmic, fictionalized narrative. Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) is a newly graduated doctor in 1970s Scotland. He is eager to avoid his patronizing doctor father and picks Uganda at random as a faraway place to practise his medical skills, arriving amidst a military coup. Initially serving in a small village hospital, he catches the attention of the new president, Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), who soon offers him a job as his personal physician. Amin eventually relies on Garrigan as his closest advisor, having become paranoid after an assassination attempt. His regime turns ruthlessly bloody and dictatorial, although this isn't immediately obvious to Garrigan.

McAvoy gives an assured performance. His character isn't always likeable (he is too easily swayed and tempted away from his humble charity work), but he does have charm and intelligence despite his naïvety.

Whitaker is mesmerizing as the charismatic Amin. He is both childishly endearing and ferociously volatile. Never have I seen an actor so fully embody a real-life character. Almost every time he appears he is in a different state of mind. A number of scenes feature terrifying mood-swings. It will be no surprise if he wins the Oscar.

The title refers to Amin's sympathy for the Scots - one of the reasons he took so warmly to Garrigan (who I believe is a composite of two or three real-life counterparts). He defies the English just as the Scots have done for centuries. He even names two of his sons Campbell and McKenzie.

As well as posing moral problems, the film - through Whitaker's supreme performance - casts an enduring image of Amin in particular and military dictators in general. Gillian Anderson excels in a small role as the wife of the English doctor whom Garrigan was originally intending to work alongside.

Nugget: an outstanding performance by Forest Whitaker in an otherwise compelling film.

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