The Last King of Scotland (2006)

4/5

USA; Kevin McDonald

 

Mature Audiences - Strong Grisly Violence; Sexual Content and Nudity; Language

 


A young idealistic Scottish doctor, Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) lands in Uganda to assist a rural hospital just as the country is shaken by a military coup perpetrated by General Idi Amin Dada. As the country seethes with an infectious enthusiasm, Nicholas catches fire too, despite his colleagues’ wariness. A tense encounter with Amin (Forrest Whitaker), a charismatic, magnetic and larger-than-life presence, changes irrevocably the course of the young doctor’s life, who becomes the dictator’s personal physician and his closest advisor. But as Amin’s fear of assassination grows into a murderous frenzy, Nicholas finds himself trapped in a downspiraling, desperate situation.


In History’s museum of horrors, Amin Dada is among one of the most infamous despots of the Black Continent, a bolstering, extravagant and lavish murderous clown, known as “The Butcher of Uganda” and allegedly a cannibal. He was the man who was said to throw corpses to the crocodiles and held “talks” with the decapitated head of his victims, kept in a freezer. Whitaker’s brutal, visceral turn as this chilling buffoon is astonishing, exuding the unctuous, glib charm and magnetism of this charismatic monster, and lending a scary immediacy to his distressing, shocking cruelty. But the 53-year-old actor also captures a hum of vulnerability, a profound, buried desire to be loved and needed unconditionally. With bloodshot eyes and congested grimace, Whitaker delivers one of the greatest performances of a still burgeoning 21th century. His Idi Amin is one of the greatest, most stupefying Homo Tyrannicus in movie history. McAvoy, a wide-eyed, nervous and twitched anti-presence, is equally convincing.


Technically and aesthetically, The Last King of Scotland is an uplifting lesson of grand cinema for any young aspiring filmmaker. McDonald’s camerawork is consistently riveting, but it is its visual flair, which lends to this grim, brutal chronicle a voluptuous, carnal spice, which is the most striking. Maybe surprisingly, the most ecstatic, leering, radioactive scenes are also the most stifling and charged. The saturated, electric hues carry at once the promise of an eye-popping sensory experience and an oppressive, eerie sense of menace and unease.


Unfortunately, the narrative takes off somehow painfully, and only the magnetic presence of Whitaker can save a mediocre, unsurprising first act. It is only past its half that the tempo of the narrative escalades, and Peter Morgan’s screenplay nails the maddening, furious and tragic intensity that the talents involved and the moral urgency of such enterprise demanded.


The grisly, haunting last act might leave you on a high (or in an abyss), but it must be said that this film has its flaws - chiefly a disappointing first act marred by a lack of dramatic impetus. But it can’t be denied that The Last King of Scotland is an affecting, nerve-racking sit, that won’t leave you unscathed.

 

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