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The Last King of Scotland

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The Last King of Scotland
Released on Friday, Jan 12 2007

Director: Kevin Macdonald
Screenwriters: Jeremy Brock, Peter Morgan
Starring: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Gillian Anderson, Kerry Washington, Simon McBurney
Running time: 125 mins
Certificate: 15

Nicholas Garrigan (McAvoy) has just graduated from medical school and is told by his patronising father that he has chosen a fine life ahead of him as a family doctor. Unconvinced and seeking adventure, he heads off to Uganda, where the politically unaware young man finds the country at a a turning point as fledgling dictator Idi Amin (Whitaker) has just risen to power by a coup.

For a brief time Garrigan puts his training to good use by becoming the second doctor in a needy village. However, when fate allows him to attend to Amin after a car accident he is taken on as the leader's personal physician and soon his "closest advisor". As Amin grows increasingly paranoid about the people around him and fears for his life, he also grows more ruthless, prompting Garrigan to reevaluate his place in his employ.

Based on the novel of the same name by Giles Forden, the film uses the fictitious Garrigan to study power's corruptibility of character and the dangers of its abuse. At first only hoping for "something different", he soon finds himself clutched to the bosom of one of last century's monsters.

Diverting some attention from the development of Amin's psychosis is the fact that Garrigan himself isn't perfect. Part of his reason for accepting the post with Amin at the capital Kampala is to escape the sexual tension with his colleague's wife (Anderson). Worse, when Amin is at his most irrational, Garrigan decides it would be a good idea to have a fling with one of his wives (Washington). This digression takes our attention away from Amin, whose scenes are certainly the more interesting.

It is Forest Whitaker's turn as the leader which makes the film so enrapturing. We know before the movie begins that Amin was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his kinsmen, though Whitaker succeeds in painting him as a well-meaning man of the people who at one point commanded genuine devotion from them. He then makes us despise the man with equal conviction, but as a far more three-dimensional character than one might expect.

Although the full impact of Amin's rule is never rammed down our throats in terms of a death count until the end of the film, there is the constant reminder of oppression. Even when there are scenes of people dancing or playing football, there's always a shot of a potentially menacing gunman. Macdonald never really means to tackle his specific atrocities, being far more interested in the characters' journeys. In this sense the vagueness of the passage of time is not as damaging as it could have been.

Whilst The Last King of Scotland may have flowed better had the focus been different, it features an excellent and insightful performance from Whitaker which is reason enough to watch it.

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