Based on Giles Foden’s best selling novel, The Last King of Scotland is an enthralling political thriller set amid the destruction of Idi Amin’s (Whitaker) murderous reign as Ugandan president during the 1970s.
A mixture of fact and fiction, the story is told from the perspective of Nicholas Garrigan (an amalgamation of three white advisors who worked for the tyrant), a cocky young Scot who heads to Africa looking for adventure straight out of medical school.
By chance he meets Amin and, thanks to the dictator’s love for all things Scottish, is soon convinced to become his personal physician. At first entranced by his charm and magnetism, Garrigan soon sees a darker, menacing side to Amin but after selling his soul to the Devil is it too late for him to escape?
Award winning documentary maker Kevin Macdonald’s (Touching the Void, One Day in September) fiction debut is a gripping combination of political drama, biopic and Hollywood thriller, fuelled by an astonishing central performance from Forest Whitaker.
By filming exclusively in Uganda (the first movie made there for over 30 years) Macdonald injects the film with a palpable sense of authenticity, and Peter Morgan’s sharp paced script combines fact and fiction with the same confidence he showed in last year’s The Queen.
It turns out that had it not been for casting director Jina Jay, Forest Whitaker may never have got the part of Idi Amin as Macdonald initially felt he was too gentle for the role. Fortunately for us, however, the director was persuaded to let the star audition for him and the rest, as they say, is history.
As well as his interesting director’s talk track (although it would have been nice to have heard writer Peter Morgan’s point of view too), Macdonald provides commentary for a handful of deleted scenes, including one, which sees the young doctor diagnosing Amin with a syphilis.
There is also a decent documentary on Amin’s life, starting with his time in the Scots Guards and culminating in his eventual downfall. The package is completed by an “Idi Amin” featurette which includes reflections from both Whitaker and McAvoy. Overall, a right royal treat.
While Whitaker steals the show with his human portrayal of Amin, mixing charisma and mania to chilling effect, McAvoy also gives a pitch perfect performance as the morally challenged young medic and confirms his status as one of Britain’s most promising young talents.
The final third feels slightly out of touch with the rest of the movie - despite the masterstroke of combining the fictional action with the real life Entebbe hostage crisis – as Morgan and Macdonald pander to the demands of a Hollywood finale, but this is a small complaint about a superbly acted, thrilling, and enlightening piece of work.
Staring: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Gillian Anderson, Kerry Washington, Simon McBurney
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
Extras: Commentary by Director, Kevin MacDonald, Deleted Scenes, 'Capturing Idi Amin' Documentary, Forest Whitaker "Idi Amin" Featurette, Fox Movie Channel Presents: Casting - The Last King of Scotland, Theatrical Trailer