The Last King of Scotland is a story set in Ugandan during the reign of Idi Amin. Based on a true story, the viewer follows a Scottish medical school graduate who travels to Uganda seeking a true life experience to juxtapose against his white urban upbringing.
While moving through the story Nicolas (the young doctor) behaves like a lost and impulsive twenty-something, amid an environment of political duplicity and horrid oppression.
In short: 3 out of 5
The Good: I have nothing except respect for Forest Whitaker’s skill as an actor. A stand-out performance. His Amin moves from silent, to brooding, to joyful, to fiendish with delicate precision.
The bloodshed is handled quickly without being indulgent, and the camera work changes styles to suit the scenes very well.
There is a small element of comedy in the film which comes from the stupidity of a young white doctor in a corrupt African nation, but it is dark humour born from the struggle and death around him that he fails to perceive.
The Bad: James McAvoy who plays Nicolas never really feels like he has the screen presence his character is meant to have. There are times throughout the film where Nicolas shows leadership and bravery, and also times where he shows a little moxie, but the portrayal never reaches either extreme.
The film shows the audience the climate of the country during Amin’s rule, and true to life shows the horror and misguided process of Amin’s eight year reign. But we never get far beyond Amin’s initial madness and paranoia. I would have loved to see more of this ruler’s perspective, consistent with his passion, and more of the process (however misguided) that placed him in power.
The political maneuvering by the British is shown to be diplomatic and subversive, but never really directly involved. Which begs the question of how did the British appoint such a leader without due diligence.
I was also surprised how much time was spent on the initial medical placement in regional Uganda, given that most of the film’s real story does not happen there, and does not need to contrast against it.