The Last King of Scotland
Published Mar 21, 2007
The Last King of Scotland, the fictional debut by esteemed UK documentary director Kevin McDonald (Touching the Void), is a highly watchable but ultimately problematic film about the most famous African in history after Nelson Mandela. Featuring a visceral, Oscar-winning turn from Forest Whitaker as Uganda’s brutal and charismatic dictator Idi Amin, and a riveting central performance from up-and-coming Scottish actor James McAvoy as Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, the naïve young physician who quickly becomes his closest personal confidante, it’s African history through the lens of a U.S.-style political thriller. When you have a leader whose surrounding myths have him alternately eating his victims and offering sexual favours to Queen Elizabeth do you really need to sex up his story for Western audiences? The Last King of Scotland is most likely the only movie about Uganda most filmgoers will ever see, and while there are some pointed digs at the imperialist system that puts demigods like Amin in power, it’s really Dr. Garrigan’s story, and our view of "the dark continent” is almost entirely from his ethnocentric perspective. The various "making of” featurettes accompanying the film emphasise the enormous responsibility the cast and crew, both foreign and local, felt, but while their love and attention to detail come across in every frame the clichéd plot twists and personal melodrama make viewers feel, at times, like they’re being sucked into a higher-calibre version of a Tony Scott film. Based on the book of the same name by journalist Giles Foden (who has a brief cameo), itself "inspired by true events,” the film takes many liberties with the source material, the adapted script blending more events from Amin’s real life with the fictional Dr. Garrigan. Rather than a more nuanced, complex take on Amin’s inevitable descent into madness, we see him turn on the good doctor for the most predictable of reasons rather than his own increasing paranoia. The DVD is packed with extras; in addition to the above-mentioned featurettes, it also includes the theatrical trailer, deleted scenes and a director’s commentary, all worth investigating.