The Last King of Scotland is the on screen adaptation of the Giles Foden’s novel of the same name. Set in 1970’s Uganda, military general Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker) has risen to power as the country’s president. During the same time, Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) is on a humanitarian medical mission to Uganda. An unlikely event links these two characters together. Nicholas Garrigan quickly becomes Amin’s personal physician and closest advisor. However Garrigan soon realizes that Amin’s rule is soaked in blood and he is complicit in the atrocities performed by the dictator. Nicholas Garrigan faces the biggest challenge of his career as he must escape the rule of Amin without going noticed.
The director of this movie, Kevin Macdonald does a brilliant job with the camerawork. The dynamic yet slick movement of the camera prevents this film from being just a static historical drama. Instead, the camera elevates this film’s performances and dramatic scenes by perfectly capturing every gush of emotion performed by the actors on screen. I was also impressed by the performances of both James McAvoy and Forest Whitaker. James McAvoy plays a bit of a stud in this film as his character is always up for an adventure and is willing to break the rules to make the most out of his experience in Uganda. Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin was also nothing short of spectacular. His accent and idiosyncrasies mirror those of the real life dictator. His portrayal of the character is anything but a stereotypical, cardboard cutout of a tyrant with genocidal blood on his hands. Whitaker’s performance revealed the emotional complexity of the former Ugandan dictator.
The Last King of Scotland is also much more light hearted than you expect it to be. Of course, there were some really gory and grotesque images that made me extremely uncomfortable but for the first two thirds of the film, I was fallen into a false sense of paradise with all the luxuries and beauties surrounding Amin’s life. Forest Whitaker’s performance also plays a big hand in this due to his light-hearted and comedic touch.
My issues with The Last King of Scotland are to do with its final 20 or so minutes. Without going into spoiler territory, I wasn’t sold on the ending. This was one of the very few instances where I felt this movie diverted from its source material and introduced a bit of fiction just to make things interesting. I also wasn’t totally sold by the “setting” of this film. The Last King of Scotland takes place in 1970s Uganda, but it didn’t feel like it. All the automobiles, clothing, buildings and roads shown seemed to suggest that this film was taking place in the early 2000’s (approximately the same time this movie was being shot). The production team could have done a better job to create a more accurate atmosphere of that time period.
But this is not to take anything away from this film. The Last King of Scotland is an outstanding piece on the life behind working for a brutal African dictator. This movie excels in its unique camerawork, applaudable performances from the two leads (Forest Whitaker and James McAvoy) and gripping storyline that is a perfect blend of light-hearted and dark tones. Where this movie failed to compel me is its ending and atmosphere, the latter of which didn’t feel authentic to the time period during which this movie takes place in.