on 8 May 2015
"The Last King of Scotland," based on a novel by Giles Foden, is perhaps a less interesting movie than "Capote," but not since seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance as Capote have I seen as powerful a representation of a historical character as Forest Whitaker's of Idi Amin -- the combination of charm and sheer frightfulness, which apparently was evident in the real Amin, is fully brought to life here, and such is Whitaker's skill that he absolutely convinces you that such extremes are possible, as well as the paranoia and the murderousness. Not only the physical dimension of Whitaker's performance but the vocal dimension too is lived in down to the last detail, it seems. Whitaker is a big man, and that physical size is important to the effect he makes, but the facial expressiveness is fully alive too. Whitaker won an Academy Award for this performance, and it was totally deserved. It's a remarkable piece of film acting.
The film as a whole is effective, although not altogether on the level of its star's performance. My reservations about it have to do with the narrative shape, which is the story of the education to reality of a remarkably vain and shallow young man, the Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), who allows himself to be sucked in to Amin's circle because of his vanity and love of status. He is written as immature, unreflective, casually self-satisfying, and unaware of the damage he does to other people's lives. Only at the end, when he realizes the fate of Amin's wife Kay (Kerry Washington) and his own likely fate does the full meaning of responsibility seem to hit him and he has to acknowledge the monstrosity that he has been willfully closing his eyes to. It's no criticism of McAvoy's performance to say that I wasn't convinced that a man in his position -- and a doctor too -- could be as impercipient as Garrigan is presented as being. Perhaps the brief glimpse that we get of his family life at the beginning of the movie is meant to make his immaturity credible, but there isn't enough of it to do that.
The visual design of the movie is very effective -- the urban modernity of Kampala isn't totally immune from an older way of life, and a bit predictably, what at first strikes Garrigan as a kind of playground for well-intentioned people darkens before our eyes, even as it takes his behavior a long time to catch up with that darkness. There's a bit of Hollywood in the ending -- will the plane take off in time?? -- but it's well led up to. The violence is very well presented, carefully calculated for effect. Amin was a mass-murderer, but the director, Kevin MacDonald, doesn't work by amassing the bodies, but he gets the point across all the same.
on 6 October 2011
Forest Whitaker is outstanding, totally convincing and deserving of all the honours that came his way. Quite superb! I could give the film 5*s based on his performance. However....
James Mcavoy struggled hard with a weak character. It was hard to believe that someone so naive could have risen so far in such a government. His motivation seemed to be little more than sex, adventure and fun. There were odd nods to an idealism in trying to build a new nation but, as Amin later says, "Did you really think you could come here and play the white man?" (or words to that effect). At that point I had more sympathy with the Ugandans than I did with Dr Garrigan (McAvoy's character). That is not to knock McAvoy at all but what he had to work with was weak.
I too felt, as some others have suggested, that more cut-aways of what really was happening elsewhere in Uganda would have given the story more substance. Perhaps it relied too heavily upon either our knowledge of the Amin/Uganda story or our preconceptions about African dictators. None of the other characters, including Gillian Anderson and Kerry Washington, were at all rounded. They were merely extras to the main characters of Amin & Garrigan. The ridiculous device of including the Entebbe rescue in the plot was at best unbelievable - at worst insulting. A weak but nevertheless dramatic & compelling story if you suspend disbelief.
But what a towering performance from Forest Whitaker!
on 23 October 2007
Set in 1970, this film follows the adventures of newly-qualified doctor Nicholas Garrigan (played by James McAvoy) as he seeks something racier than following his father into the family practice. More or less at random he picks work as an overseas medical officer in Uganda. On the bus into the country he declares, on sighting his first monkey, "if we had monkeys in Scotland we'd probably deep-fry them" before breaking his journey to make jiggy-jiggy with the first local girl he speaks to.
Upon arrival at the mission hospital - a day late - he soon finds that the heavy clinical workload is both emotionally overwhelming and not to his taste. A chance meeting with newly-installed president Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker) leads to an offer he can hardly refuse to become the president's personal physician. However he soon finds that he is in over his head and has to turn for help to the bourgeois types in the British establishment that he had come to Africa to avoid.
James McAvoy's character is a thrill-seeking charmer who smokes, drinks and services his libido with as many attractive women as he can. Both he and Idi Amin see something of themselves in each others eyes, though Idi Amin wins hands down in the psychopathy stakes. Forest Whitaker plays the fickle egotist brilliantly and avoids the pantomime psycho act in favour of a more believable and even sympathetic character - the film shows that he's not just being paranoid, they really are out to get him!
On the down side, Dr Garrigan at times felt like a gap-yearing member of the ipod generation who had been time-warped into a Graham Greene story. Would a young doctor in 1970 be so naive and reckless?
This film has great scenery and characters and accurately depicts the clothes, buildings and vehicles of the time and place it is set. Well worth seeing more than once.
on 7 October 2012
If after watching a movie one feels lonesome and a longing to see it again , that is one way of recognising a masterpiece. That is not the only reason why 'The Last King of Scotland' is one: it is an absolutely flawless piece of filmmaking from the first reel to the last and an experience that has the capacity to stay in one's memories long after the end credits rollout.
The director, Kevin MacDonald brings his skills as an award winning documentary maker to the film with great penchant and handles the quite tricky subject matter delicately, humorously and, more importantly, impartially, and delivers a story that could have easily become unpalatable and unpleasant in the hands of a tactless director. A portrayal of the life and times of a brutal dictator like Idi Amin is not as easy as it may seem. He was atrocious, brutally menacing and was obnoxious to even those who were closest to him. If he had any charisma to speak of, that was attributable to his intimidating presence rather than to any amiability. Forest Whitaker's stupendous and award winning portrayal of Amin therefore is central to the success of this film, simply because he brings in his captivating charisma to the role and, being the great actor he is, effortlessly blends in the menace that the brutal dictator used to control his hapless subjects with. The result is that, whenever the character appears, he overwhelmingly commands from the viewer affection and revulsion in equal measure, and in that order, and, in doing so, inescapably renders Amin more affable than he actually was to his defenceless subjects.
In stark contrast, James McAvoy's equally splendid and seemingly effortless performance portraits an immensely charming, youthfully intense and endearingly reckless Nicholas Garrigan who is the antithesis of Amin, not too different from an angel to a demon, and who, to his detriment, captures the heart of the beleaguered dictator.
From the very first moment the two meet, a numbing anxiety, a kind that is incomparable with any past cinema experience, builds up, arresting the audience, and escalates to a paralysing crescendo during the last thirty minutes of the movie.
Equally commendable contributions from the rest of the crew and the cast make this film a great achievement in cinema history. But, what makes it a masterpiece, reminiscent of benchmarks of political cinema such as `The Killing Fields`, 'The Year of Living Dangerously' and `Schindler's List', is that it has the potential to remain in our collective memory, hopefully reminding the generations to come of the barbarity of humanity that, despite countless lessons from the past, remains unabated to this day. Long live the human evolution!
7th February 2008
on 30 May 2007
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.
on 20 September 2015
Uganda: Africa; a dictator. It could be one of so many past & present. Idi Amin is a rising military star (British trained). Young, freshly-qualified Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) is in `Carry On Up The Jungle' mode with his louch, cocky fast-living hard-drinking libidinous attitude to life. He means to sensuously sample the world and for a first destination, lights upon - Uganda. He arrives just as Amin has staged a coup. By a strange turn of coincidences, he has a terrifying personal encounter with the dictator-to-be. But the great leader is in triumphal humour and their departure ends in hugs, huge laughter and an exchange of shirts rather than a hail of Kalashnikov bullets. It seems that Amin is a fan of Scotland.
(Spoiler Alert) Rapidly, the young doctor is dragooned into Amin's innermost circle of confidantes. Amin sharply senses that as his personal physician, Garrigan will have the most intimate access to him, and being a white foreigner must represent the safest pair of hands for the job. He has no tribal loyalties, and couldn't possibly usurp him as nobody in black Africa would tolerate his presumed white leadership for a second. With unlimited access to the nation's wealth, Amin can afford to be generous. Garrigan is seduced.
Forest Whitaker offers a terrifyingly realistic presentation of an African tyrant. It could be any of the many. Proud, vain, intolerant, mercurial, determined to appear strong by the inevitable means of brutality and cruelty. Attempts upon his life drive this cocktail of attributes rapidly down the road of paranoia. Endowed with all the knowledge of western politics and military theory, he is nevertheless barely a step from his tribal roots: a poor, oppressed nobody, suddenly endowed with God-like power and authority. Once again, the popular revolutionary becomes the next ruthless butcher. Garrigan's position inevitably becomes untenable, and after falling foul of his patron; he is marked for a very sticky end...
McAvoy's role was doomed to pale into shadow compared with such a larger-than-life protagonist. He's a young man from a privileged background without the least experience of such violence & slaughter. At times, he seems to be clinging to the part by his fingernails, even as one might suppose Garrigan himself might've clung to reality. At times I find his shallowness irritating, yet still quite believable. But Whitaker's the man to watch - and watch him you do; every little frown, doubtful stare and blast of anger. Dictator's are not safe enough to be friends with; just the wrong smile might get you shot.
Most of the technical elements are well up to snuff, though at times I thought the editing a bit clumsy. We don't see too much of the big picture and the scale of slaughter. Instead, it's an often intensely personal and claustrophobic experience. It is listed as 115 mins runtime, `15' viewer rating and in colour. Well worth a watch. There can be few things more terrifying than the close proximity of a tyrant who doesn't like you...
on 6 April 2012
(the film)A Scottish doctor on a Ugandan medical mission becomes irreversibly entangled with one of the world's most barbaric figures: Idi Amin. Impressed by Dr. Garrigan's brazen attitude in a moment of crisis, the newly self-appointed Ugandan President Amin hand picks him as his personal physician and closest confidante. Though Garrigan is at first flattered and fascinated by his new position, he soon awakens to Amin's savagery - and his own complicity in it. Horror and betrayal ensue as Garrigan tries to right his wrongs and escape Uganda alive.
what can I say?
When thinking of dictators, Hitler comes to mind. Yet here is a monster like no other, who killed hundreds of thousands in Uganda with Death Squads, and history must never overlook what he did. Forest Whitaker more than deserved his Best Actor Oscar for this movie
He rightly picked up the best actor gong at the 2007 Oscars for his sensational portrayal of Idi Amin being so strikingly similar to the real Idi Amin as he was. The rise and terrifying policies of this president should be viewed as a flawless portrayal of a shocking human being and as a historical eye-opener.
This will blew you away.
The Last King Of Scotland is deffinetly a must watch.
on 23 January 2008
The performance of Forest Whitaker left me speechless. There is SO MUCH I'd wish to say for it, but I'm lost for words! A chilling film about the 70's president of Uganda, the charmer-monster Idi Amin. As a story, it could easily stand for many of the developing world's dictators. James McAvoy was superb as Amin's physician portraying the naive, impressionable youth who gradually undergoes a transformation as he discovers the sinister reality behind his boss's charms. His extremely young looks stretch the credibility of such a boy having actually graduated from medical school, but his outstanding performance makes up for it.
Hard to watch at the end, with the brutality of Amin and his henchmen reaching monstrous proportions. But precisely because the movie was not filled with scenes of violence, but rather spread them out in gradual doses over the second half, escalating towards the end, that made them all the more harrowing. Again, as for Forest Whitaker, I cannot say enough for his performance, maybe simply that it was pure genius.
I was gripped by this film within minutes of it beginning. Not a scene is wasted. It opens with a brief montage in which we see Nicholas' carefree life and graduation in Britain. He graduates with such idealism and hope that he randomly ends up going to Uganda where he feels his medical skills are most needed. This provides both a contrast and an explanation for his later behaviour when he is swaddled in luxury and privelege by his benefactor, Idi Amin.
I knew somehting of Amin's rule as I was growing up and I remember being surprised in 2003 on hearing that he had died- I thought he had died many years previously. I had heard rumours of his cannibalism and rumours of his outrageous faxes to our Queen headed "Dear Liz". What this film, and Forest Whitaker demonstrates so ably is that Amin was a deadly combination of total evil and a child like fun loving charm. Towards the end Dr Nicholas tells him that he is a child in a man's body and that's what makes him so dangerous.
Nicholas (superbly played by James Macavoy), being an idealist himself, is seduced by new leader Amin's idealism and is carried along by the attention Amin lavishes on him. As his tenure under Amin unfolds, there are warning signs that all is not as it seems and soon Nicholas finds colleagues disappearing and the British diplomats warning him of the dangers of his position. It is not until it is almost too late that Nicholas' eyes are opened to the true evil of which Amin is capable. Towards the end there are two scenes in particular that are extremely, shockingly grisly but it is to the director's credit that such gore is not exposed randomly or gratuitiously throughout. The ending is appropriate in many ways and that is all I will say.
Forest Whitaker fully deserved his Oscar. He displays the kind of loyalty inspiring charisma that helps to explain how such an evil man gained power. He is big too, as Amin was, towering above all his soldiers. Macavoy is perfectly cast as the pretty boy charmer who, carried away with his own bit of power, makes his own mistakes too. A fantastic film that will stay with me for a very long time.
on 17 April 2007
certainly an interesting film on paper,a film that fuses fact with fiction,the fact lies with the character of idi amin played with glorious stature by forest whitaker,the fiction lies with the character of doctor nick garrigan played by james mcavoy who befriends the dictator and learns that friendships arent always with happy times.
The reason for the fictional character is more than likely because the film deals with the uganda president who spearheaded a genocide on his own country and waged war on those who were different than him as well,in terms of belief and race,all of this takes place in uganda,so with the fictional scottish doctor,its probably our window to a world that we wouldnt understand,maybe the film doesnt need that window for us viewers but it doesnt hurt in truth.
The film doesnt really look at the murders that amin sanctioned,it doesnt deal with too many politics,it focus' on how the man can be a man with a sense of humour and likeable but underneath that there is a distrust for fellow man and how his moods can change so quickly and the callous beliefs that he holds.
The doctor probably also represents societys view on uganda at the time,for the doctor starts to see the evil unfold around him and wants to brush it under the carpet,pretend it isnt there so to speak,and when he wants to do something then he cant,as he is in too deep,well thats my reading of it anyway.
Without giving any more of the story away,i want to finish the review by praising the performance of whitaker further,his performance is something out of this world,all his critical praise and awards are more than merited,when he appears on screen,he owns the scene,in fact he owns the movie,rarely as method acting been used to such effect before,whitaker lived and breathed the real mans ways for 6 months or so i believe and the results are clinical and more than passable,this is a film that wont suit everyone but there is much to admire,much.