The Last King of Scotland (2006)
Starring: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Simon McBurney, Gillian Anderson, David Oyelowo, Adam Kotz
Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
When reviewing movies, it’s important to review the movie you’ve seen, not the movie you’d have preferred to have seen. By that I mean the reviewer needs to focus on what the filmmakers have given us, not what we would prefer for them to have given us.
But sometimes that’s difficult, especially with a movie like The Last King of Scotland, when we’re given a perfectly decent thriller that had the elements to be something more. It’s a well made feature that draws your attention and keeps it, building to a fairly exciting climax, highlighted by a fantastic performance by Forest Whitaker and a solid leading performance by James McAvoy. Director Kevin Macdonald does a great job in setting the stage of the film, Uganda in the 1970s under the reign of Idi Amin, setting the mood of the time before ratcheting up the tension.
Whitaker is fantastic as the despot Amin, flashing charm and charisma to the masses, while hinting at the menace behind his grin and man of the people routine. The only problem with the role, which gets into judging the movie I’d have preferred to have seen, is that we don’t get enough of him, as he isn’t the featured character of the movie. Thus, the movie doesn’t delve deeply enough into the history of Amin, hinting around at his savagery more often than actually revealing it to us.
Instead, the movie focuses on McAvoy’s Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, a fictional character who serves as the audience’s introduction to Amin’s Uganda. McAvoy does a good job with the role, bringing a winking charisma to his irresponsible doctor, who becomes Amin’s personal physician and trusted adviser when the dictator meets him and admires his pluck. It’s a decent technique, using the outsider to slowly reveal the horrors that lie beneath, if a bit troublesome given that we’re treated to a movie about Ugandan genocide through the eyes of a white European.
The problem is that Garrigan isn’t as interesting a character as Whitaker’s Amin, in fact, he’s kind of a dumbass. It’s a problem because there probably isn’t going to be many movies on Ugandan slaughter or Amin, so I’d preferred a movie that told more of the story and detailed more of what made him tick and the extent of his crimes. Worse, this will almost certainly be the only movie about Amin featuring Whitaker’s phenomenal performance, which I would have liked to have seen more of with more dimensions added to the performance.
With that, The Last King of Scotland could’ve been a truly great movie, memorable for more than just one performance. As it is, we only see Amin in relation to Garrigan, who does a serviceable job as a leading character in an above average thriller, but can not raise the movie to the next level. All in all, it’s a solid effort that is definitely worth seeing, but not the defining project it could have easily been.
The DVD is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound (there’s also a fullscreen edition available for those of you who are stupid). Along with the requisite deleted scenes, director’s commentary, a theatrical trailer, the DVD is highlighted by three featurettes: Capturing Idi Amin, Forest Whitaker on Becoming Idi, and a Fox Movie Channel Presents Casting Session.
The best of the three is the Capturing Idi Amin documentary, which provides background information on the former Ugandan dictator that helps fill in the gaps left in the narrative of the movie. It is a really good feature, that shows not only what the movie was trying to accomplish with its story, but also interviews people who lived through Amin’s time, some who still hold the man in esteem, and some who bring the horrors of his regime to life.
The other two features highlight Academy Award Best Actor winner Forest Whitaker, one from the perspective of how they cast him, and the other from his perspective that he took into the role. The DVD is very much centred around Whitaker, from the bonus features to the packaging. It’s understandable, as he is not only the biggest star of the movie, but also the reason why most people will be picking up the DVD. If anyone ever wonders, this is why I care about who wins what award: because the movies that do win awards get more attention and more viewers. And more viewers means not only do great performances get the attention they deserve, but also better movies get green lit.
In any case, it was smart to focus on Whitaker, as he is the highlight of the movie, but it did feel a little odd that so little attention was paid to James McAvoy’s Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, since he is the main character of the movie and all. Throw him a quickie featurette! Besides that, this is a very strong DVD set, with features that enhance the viewing experience of an above average movie. You can purchase the DVD by following the link provided on the banner below.