The Last King of Scotland
Perhaps one of the more difficult things to do in film is portray a mad man. When the main character of a movie is so insane and bereft on any redeeming qualities it is a challenge to all involved in the project to make the film viewable by the viewing public. Typically when a film that attempts this fails it does so in a large way. The opposite is also true. When a film about a mad man succeeds the results are rare and wonderful. The latter is the case for the film ĎLast King Of Scotlandí. This film by Kevin Macdonald is loosely based on the novel by Giles Foden. The mad man who is the subject of this film is none other than former Ugandan President Idi Amin. He was responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, ruled with a iron fist and was indeed insane by most standards. When I looked up what title he went by it found ""His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular". Kind of indicates some degree of megalomaniac condition. To make a film about this man may have been difficult but the end result is one of the most compelling dramas to hit the screen in decades.
Idealistic and young Doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) came to Uganda to help people. He had little use for politics all that mattered to him was to relieve the suffering of his patients. Most of his work was in the smaller villages in the country and it was there that he met someone who would literally change his life. One night a group of men come in telling the doctor that his expertise is needed for their wounded leader. The leader is none other than Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker). While treating the general Garrigan is distracted by a cow that was injured in the same accident that hurt Amin. The doctor grabs a gun and puts the animal down. While first put off by the doctorís actions Amin soon comes to admire the decisiveness of the young doctor. As his above listed self title shows Amin has an obsession with the British Island and in particular admires the Scots. When he discovers that Garrigan is Scottish Amin asks him to be his personal physician. One thing about Amin is very evident; he is not a man who is used to being refused so the doctor agrees.
The good doctor soon discovers that although Amin is extremely charismatic he is certifiably paranoid. Initially Garrigan finds his new employment encouraging. The first signs of paranoia in Amin seem natural for a general leading a military coup if the countryís sitting government. By the time Garrigan realizes the depth of Aminís problems the doctor is in far too deep. Not only would his request of leave Amin be taken as a personal affront Garrigan is also having an affair with Aminís totally ignored third wife, Kay (Kerry Washington). Now that Amin is president his power is absolute. Refusal of any request, no matter how insignificant, is tantamount to suicide. Amin may ignore Kay but it is certain that if he discovered her infidelity things would not go well for her or the doctor. As it is Amin trusts the doctor and pulls him into his paranoia. In one case Amin is certain that he is being poisoned. Garrigan examines the dictator and has him bend over while clasping a stick tight to his stomach. It was only a really bad case of flatulence but for Amin the doctor saved his life. Amin also confides in Garrigan his views of the imperialistic domination of Scotland and his hopes to liberate and become King of Scotland. Garrigan is not only uneasy with his role as personal physician but being the confidant of such a man is dangerous. Garrigan notices that several of the presidentís cabinet has begun to disappear without a trace. Garrigan is caught between his fear of Amin and his realization that he is a deranged and dangerous killer. His oath has been to help the suffering but he now works for a heinous murderer.
The structure of the film has its flaws but it does provide the foundation for some amazing performances. The focus here is not so much the atrocities that Amin perpetrated but on the disintegration of his personality and mental health. The film does have a tendency towards being overly melodramatic but it holds together as a compelling drama. Macdonald paces the movie well never letting it drag on although some of the sub plots seem to be an afterthought. One example is the tryst between Garrigan and Kay. It serves little purpose to the main theme of the descent of Amin into madness and only demonstrates the danger that Garrigan finds himself in. It also diminishes the moral high ground for the doctor since his motives at the conclusion are clouded by his emotional involvement. The use of some humor here does keep the film from becoming too dark. Overall the film is well done.
I cannot think of one film with Forest Whitaker where I was disappointed. He may look like a quite, unassuming man but he has a force to his acting that is always a joy to watch. Here he changes his tone and body language as his character becomes increasingly insane. Not many actors could play such a real life monster and still keep the viewers glued to the screen. Whitaker handles this difficult role with professionalism and sheer force of will. Many years the Oscar for best actor seems to go to a sentimental favorite but this year it was awarded to one of the best actors of all time. James McAvoy plays well opposite Whitaker. He develops his character slowly, allowing the audience some insight into the changes the doctor had to face. He is far away from the lighter character of Mr. Tummus in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which only demonstrates the range of this young actor. Kerry Washington didnít have much to work with in her role of Kay but she did extremely well with what she had. This actress is making a name for herself playing opposite powerful, Oscar caliber actors, usually as the wife of a famous man. She is certainly a yo9ung woman to watch.
20th Century Fox brings this film to DVD with the treatment it so richly deserves. The 2.35:1 anamorphic video is stunning. The color palette is realistic with rich hues and excellent contrast. The Dolby 5.1 audio fills the room. The sound stage it provides enfolds you and draws you into the film. Director Kevin Macdonald provides an interesting and informative commentary not only for the feature but for several of the alternate and deleted scenes contained on the disc. There is a featurette from the Fox Movie Channel that details the casting of the film and how the film makers had to work out capturing the essence of Idi Amin. You canít take this film as history but it sure works as entertainment.