The Last King of Scotland Kevin MacDonald

This film labours under the misapprehension that it has something to say about the reign of Ugandan tyrant Idi Amin Dada. Sadly, it really doesn’t. No matter, it’s still an absorbing 121 minutes of actorly menace and monstrous behaviour.

James McAvoy plays audience surrogate Nicholas Garrigan, a young doctor who arbitrarily chooses the doomed African country as a way of "making a difference.” But a chance encounter with the newly installed Amin (Forest Whitaker) lands him a gig as the dictator’s private doctor and, more queasily, his private confidant. It doesn’t take long for Amin to drop the line about growing up destitute and start wreaking horrible havoc on the nation, which unfortunately for Garrigan includes the now terrified inner circle.

Much is being made of Whitaker’s turn as the Ugandan Hannibal Lecter and this is part of the problem: though Amin is horrible, he’s the only really differentiated black character and therefore is lent a begrudging admiration that has nowhere else to go. Thus, Whitaker is free to get his inevitable Oscar nomination on the back of a monster that actually lived to kill hundreds of thousands of innocents.

Thankfully, the film doesn’t transgress too badly: though it makes a hero out of a twit who ought to know better, it manages to capture a surreal existence on the edge of a madman’s fantasies. As long as you don’t accept this as the last word on the subject of African despotism (and take the protag’s decision to flee the nest as the best and only response to the problem), you’ll be fairly boggled by the limits of Amin’s grotesque self-regard and Whitaker’s representation of same. (Fox Searchlight)