Ugandan dictator Ida Amin was a monster of epic proportions, a larger-than-life figure well known for his charming personality and big plans. Reveling in pomp and circumstance to the point where it became comical, it was difficult to take this tyrant seriously; the almost childlike demeanor he presented to the world existed side by side with megalomania and mass murder. The Last King of Scotland is a portrait of the monster told from the point of view of a (fictional) Scottish doctor fresh out of school, Nicholas (James McAvoy), who is quickly promoted to personal physician to Amin himself simply because the leader loves and respects all things Scottish. As Nicholas sees the increasingly unstable and murderous reign of this mad dictator, he inevitably realizes he’s in over his head. The Last King of Scotland is remarkably taut and fast-paced for a two-hour film, with cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle using his 28 Days Later style of jolting handheld camerawork and unlikely camera placement to maximum effect here. He finds a fascinating subject in the face of Amin, as played by Forest Whitaker. This tremendous actor is able to suggest striking subtleties from one line reading to the next, and his expressive face quickly shifts from love to bullying to hectoring to adoration in rapid, eye-blinking succession. Evoking danger and a sickening sort of pity, Whitaker suggests through his mercurial turn that being an innocent and being a monster can be uniquely combined; and that within the heart of the megalomaniac is a spontaneous, moody child jumping from the heights of joy to the depths of depravity. The world is his train set, and if he doesn’t like it he’ll break it apart, but once broken he’ll childishly beg his colleagues to put it back together again. If The Last King of Scotland doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about monsters, it certainly provides a vivid snapshot of Uganda (the film was shot on location) and a tour-de-force portrayal of a creature who is all the more horrifying because his evil is so recognizable, and so chillingly embracing and warm.
- Kevin Macdonald
- Jeremy Brock, Peter Morgan
- Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Simon McBurney, Gillian Anderson
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