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The Last King of Scotland

Not What You Think and So Much Better

While the title of this film makes it sound as if it's some kind of costume drama, be assured that The King of Scotland is anything but. There are many things I can say about this movie. But they all come down to two things: 1. This is one of the best movies of the year and 2. Forest Whitaker better at least get nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor.

Directed by Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, One Day in September) and based on the book by Giles Foden, The Last King of Scotland follows the rule of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (played with amazing ferocity by Forest Whitaker) from his days as a fighter for the people to his descent into a crazed, paranoid megalomaniac as seen vis--vis an unlikely confidante in the form of a young, brash and nave Scotsman, Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy in a stunning performance).

When Dr. Garrigan arrived in Uganda, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, on a medical volunteership that's supposed to satisfy both his altruistic fancies as well as his wanderlust, he probably wasn't expecting to be brought into the fold of the most powerful man in the country. Fresh off his military coup, President Amin and Dr. Garrigan are introduced after an accident brings them together. The President, who assigned himself the full title of "His Excellency President for Life Field Marshal Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, King of Scotland, 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" had once served in the British Colonial Army and remembered his fellow Scottish soldiers well which endeared the Dr. to him. Soon the Garrigan is appointed as his personal physician and, before long, one of the most important figures in the ruling hierarchy.

It seems like a Danielle Steele novel gone wrong. While such an appointment seems unlikely, when you consider the capriciousness of the misguided and mentally unstable Amin, it does not. Garrigan is quickly seduced by Amin's charismatic personality and taken in by the glamorous lifestyle offered him while turning a blind eye to what is really going on around in the world outside his luxurious accommodations. However, he soon discovers the dark underbelly of the regime and his newfound friend.

James McAvoy portrays the nave Garrigan to a tee. He seems to hold the entire character in his startlingly blue eyes. But if McAvoy is The Last King of Scotland's soul then Forest Whitaker is its heart. He seems to embody Idi Amin, and seamlessly juggles vulnerability, joyfulness and wrath. His performance is bar none. Likewise, the entire supporting cast is superb from Kerry Washington who plays Kay Amin's third wife to Simon McBurney who plays a smarmy British foreign serviceman.

Macdonald brings a hazy quality to the movie that captures Africa in the 70s, and it is so vivid, you feel as if you were transported to another time and place; you feel as if you were there. Thankfully, however, you are not. While Amin's rule is noted for its extreme violence (over 300,000 people were killed in ten years), the audience is spared from the immense bloodshed since the movie is told from the perspective of Garrigan who is spared from it himself. Although there is one scene that is noteworthy for its graphic violence.

There are times when you may wish the Ugandan (Swahili is the official language along with English, but you can't be sure if this was the exact language spoken) was translated. But, perhaps, it works better because then you can't quite understand what is happening in certain scenes and are left just as confused as the protagonist.

The Last King of Scotland, with its compelling storyline, immensely talented cast, tight direction and excellent editing, makes it a must see. Do not wait to see this movie on video, see it in the theaters and then tell me you don't think Whitaker should win an Oscar. I dare you.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars