James McAvoy plays Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, who is fresh out of medical college in the 1970s. Nicholas thoroughly dreads following in his dour father's footsteps, a life to be spent working in a Scottish general practice. Driven by the urge to get away, he spins a globe and randomly stabs a finger, which lands on the sub-Saharan country of Uganda.
There Nicholas meets the newly self-installed president of the country, General Idi Amin. During a meeting between the two, where Nicholas treats an injury picked up by Amin during an accident, the dictator finds out that Nicholas is Scottish. Prompted by his love of all things Highland, Amin sweeps the young and impressionable Scot into the inner circle of his government before Nicholas has time to consider the danger signs.
Gillian Anderson, who lays on a near fautless British accent not for the only time in her career, is sadly underused to the point of irrelevance. Playing a veteran health worker who has seen the likes of Amin before, she tries to warn Nicholas of the dangers of getting swept along by the dictator's charisma, but to no avail.
Forest Whitaker's performance as Amin is stellar. A kind of black Josef Stalin, he dominates every scene he's in, his moods swinging with paranoid sharpness and his trust shattering at so much as a perceived funny look from an underling.
Viewers should know that there are two extremely unpleasant scenes at the end of the film. These come as even more of a shock after Nicholas has spent so much of the story revelling in the Ugandan high-life, only becoming aware of his patron's evil excesses once they reach their worst depths.
The highlights of the film are, again, Forest Whitaker's Idi Amin, and the colour, music and tribal pageantry of Ugandan life, before the dictator's brutality brought the country to its knees, shown in all its glory.
I only learned after the fact that James McAvoy's character is entirely fictional. This is a shame because the film might have made a superb primer to the history, culture and personality of the region had The Last King Of Scotland shown life in Amin's government from the perspective from someone who had actually been there.
Nevertheless, this is a cut way, way above most of the dross that clutters the shelves of your local DVD store. Be prepared for the nastiness in the film's closing quarter, but by all means, don't overlook it.