Monday, March 19, 2007


RUNTIME: 121 min.
RATING: ****

I remember as a first grader, my elder brother told me about a certain Idi Amin who was the leader of Uganda and his peculiar choice of food. I was so filled with fear; I was naïve to understand every other thing and for quite a while was in secret terror. Idi Amin was one of those villains, so perfectly evil, of course without any super powers. But he was very real and when I saw this huge figure on television one day, my fear went up a couple of notches.
Gone are those days, and Idi Amin, the tyrant who was responsible for killing 300,000 people during his brutal regime is dead as well. But THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, a movie with quite a misleading title, brought every bit of that terror back to me. The British learnt how unreliable Amin was, among the many traits he possessed. THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND puts a human face, a first hand experience of what it would be like to be under an unreliable paranoid megalomaniac. Told through the eyes of Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA), a newly graduated Scottish doctor who escapes to Uganda from his overbearing father, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND is about the evil and tyrannical rule of Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker). Nicholas arrives in Uganda right in the middle of tumultuous events where Amin is seizing power from his one time friend and the first President of Uganda Milton Obote. Nicholas, by chance happens to be nearby when Amin suffers a minor injury on his right hand. He impresses Amin and is made his personal physician and gradually his personal adviser. Nicholas initially enjoys the importance he is given but gradually begins to understand what Amin is really like, a dictator who would always rely more on his soldiers than on his advisors. His attempts to run away from this nightmare fail every time and he sees “enemies” of the regime disappearing all the time.
Although it would now come expected, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND rides high on a towering performance from Forest Whitaker. Whitaker gives arguably the best method acting performance since Christian Bale’s THE MACHINIST. He has an overbearing personality throughout and with the help of fantastic camerawork and great music score by Alex Heffes, creates a true chilling portrayal. The movie boasts of an unusually high energy, something quite rare in biopics. THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND works more like a thriller and it based on the award-winning novel by Giles Foden, the movie never does lose pace. I never realized before that Whitaker had such a heavy voice but it is put to fantastic use here. Every time he’s on the screen and every time the camera zooms onto him, the effect is chilling, something which reminded me of Anthony Hopkins in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. The movie could have very well gone the way of a PATTON or a GANDHI by drawing the character through political events but instead chooses to create intense sequences. Events like the air hijack at Entebbe and the expulsion of resident Asian traders only serve as a backdrop. Jack Nicholson was quite good in THE DEPARTED but my guess is he would have been more satisfying if he had gone Whitaker’s way.
Biopics often stand a good chance at the Academy awards; Philip Seymour Hoffman won it last year for his at times brilliant, at times quite over the top portrayal of Truman Capote. Whitaker doesn’t, even in a single shot, go over the top and his is a superbly balanced performance. This has to be one of the better choices of recent times for the Best Actor trophy.
Of course, the movie is not all Whitaker, though his performance very much overshadows every single thing except for the camerawork and superb score. McAvoy, most famous as Mr. Tumnus in THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, is quite impressive, though the screenplay sure does let down here. It is the supporting cast where the movie isn’t as brilliant as compared to when the focus is on Amin. Garrigan is supposed to be guilty for his part in the evil of Amin but that is never convincingly shown. All we come to know of this is through characters uttering dialogues. The angle between him and Sarah Merrit (Gillian Anderson) is absolutely bland. The main drawback of the movie is that it focuses to heavily on Amin, and it sure does deliver there. But the plot, which demands stress on Garrigan, does leave something to be desired.
This is MacDonald’s first feature film and he’s plain fantastic. He, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (DOGVILLE, 28 DAYS LATER), Alex Heffes superb background score and Whitaker’s whale of a performance make THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND one of the better political thrillers of recent times.

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