The Last King of Scotland (2006)
Directed by Kevin Macdonald
I’m confused. I want to praise “The Last King of Scotland” for its bold use of documentary-style cinematography, throwback film score, and surrealist, “Trance”-like sequences to shove the action forward and build dramatic suspense…but instead, my head clouds with thoughts that I’ve seen it all before. Sure, it’s eight years old now. But it seems like a mere compilation of more contemporary movies like “Blood Diamond” and “The Last Station,” and even the failed television show “Hostages.” The déjà vu is unshakable.
James McAvoy is incredible as Dr. Nicholas Gerrigan, a young, well-to-do Scottish physician who feels he would be better utilizing his skills in a country where an oppressive regime is currently being taken down: Uganda, 1971. When he treats the new commander, Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), following a car accident, Amin asks Gerrigan to be his personal physician. Showered with gifts from the loving leader, Gerrigan accepts the offer and feels that he’s doing his duty to the people of Uganda. But Amin, as history will prove, isn’t all that he seems. Will Gerrigan stay blinded by the gifts, or will his sense of duty shift to a cause more…moral?
Forest Whitaker is the true pulse of the film as he plays Uganda’s charismatic new leader. Whitaker swept the award circuit, winning Best Actor in 27 different award ceremonies from the Academy Awards (his only Oscar) to the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards. Incredible. His performance is a staggering masterpiece. Not to take anything away from McAvoy, who’s right in his element. McAvoy is always better as the weaker man, the one not in power.
But like I said before, there’s something too familiar about “The Last King of Scotland.” It’s an unbelievable true story (well, mostly true…Gerrigan’s character is mostly fiction, simply a means to tell Amin’s story from an outsider’s perspective), but true stories are by no means a new trend. Even true stories about oppressive regimes with a backdrop of war are hardly unique. Internal conflicts of duty vs. trust are just as common, as are themes of broken alliances and insiders using their privilege.
But still, “The Last King of Scotland” is incredibly well-made. The two masters of acting in the lead roles are top-notch. The cinematography encourages the fast-paced action that you see on screen. The story is full of natural drama and suspense. I guess I just saw it too late.