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Chris Utley’s review of The Last King Of Scotland

Official Website
Directed by: Kevin MacDonald
Written by: Peter Morgan, Jeremy Brock
Based on the novel by: Giles Foden
Starring: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Gillian Anderson
Produced by: Andrea Calderwood, Lisa Bryer, Charles Steel
Executive Produced by: Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich, Tessa Ross
Genre: Drama/History
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Rating: R

 

Why Forest Whitaker is Oscar Bound
Chris Utley’s $0.02 regarding
The Last King of Scotland
(Spoilers included)

I made a huge mistake on my 6th wedding anniversary on 11/4/06. We usually go to dinner and a movie to celebrate our life and love. This year was no different. My wife and I had a lovely dinner at a fine steakhouse and, when dinner was over, we headed off to the spiffy new AMC Century 15 Theatres in Century City (West Los Angeles), CA to try to catch The Departed.

But when we got to the theatre, the adventures of Leo, Matt, Jack and Mark was sold out. The only available shows that we’d consider were The Prestige and The Last King of Scotland. She wanted to see The Prestige. I REALLY wanted to see The Last King of Scotland. So I talked her into seeing my movie choice.

I should have let her win.

The Last King of Scotland was the WRONG movie to see while celebrating a wedding anniversary. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie. In fact, it’s brilliant, and very well made. But it was so intense that we had to refocus ourselves back into celebratory mode when the credits rolled. Definitely not “date night material”…unless the date in question is February 25, 2007 (the date for this year’s Oscars).

Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) is bright eyed, bushy tailed and fresh out of medical school. Instead of becoming a resident at a posh & upscale hospital, Dr. Garrigan decides to strike a Good Samaritan pose and ventures to Uganda to assist an overworked medical team in treating their myriad of patients. At the same time, Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker) has just declared his presidency/supremacy/lordship over the country of Uganda. Amin makes a speech in the village where Dr. Garrigan and team are working and they meet. Later on, Dr. G ends up treating Amin who has injured himself in a freak accident. Even freakier, a wailing cow ends up interfering with Dr. G’s treatment of Amin which prompts him to swiftly take matters into his own hands. Impressed by Dr. G’s actions, Amin invites him to his plush capital palace and appoints Dr. G as his own personal physician – a role which is quickly upgraded to personal advisor. Dr. G is initially impressed at the charm and wit that Amin displays. But, as time goes on, Dr. G discovers that that charm and wit is hiding a personality that is maniacally fearful, vicious and insecure – a personality that ultimately descends into utter madness.

Some folks win Oscars because they charm the pants off the audience. The characters they create are full of vim, vigor & vitality and leave lasting (positive) impressions on their audiences. Other folks win Oscars because they strip away all pretense and pre-conceived notions and willfully step into the abyss of their characters. Forest Whitaker has practically swept every major pre-Oscar award with his performance. When you see it, you will fully understand why Whitaker is Oscar bound. Whitaker has stepped truly, madly, deeply into the depths of Idi Amin’s anguished and tortured soul. In the simplest terms, the man is flat out scary. He delivers in his a performance a portrait of a man which you truly love in the first hour who, before your eyes, transforms into a crazy, deranged menace whom you fear with every ounce of your soul in the last hour. The man is evil incarnate – your best friend & your worst nightmare rolled up into one. And you just never know which personality is gonna pop up at the beginning of each scene. Forget about Saw and Black Christmas. Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin is horror – pure, genuine horror.

And, just like those aforementioned horror flicks, you absolutely can’t take your eyes off the screen.

James McAvoy’ delivers a nomination-worthy performance as a (not so innocent) doctor who has bitten off more than he could chew. This young, fresh-faced doctor figured it was an honorable thing to serve the leader of the country he was in. Amin was particularly enamored by Dr. G’s Scottish origins (Amin’s love for all things Scottish explains the film’s title). This unmerited favor caused Dr. G to be treated like a royal citizen of Uganda. He got to share (initially) big laughs and good times with Amin and learned some of his deepest, darkest secrets.

But favor has a price: getting caught in the crossfire of various assassination attempts, being a witness to internal (and eventually deadly) infighting among Amin’s cabinet, and eventually betraying Amin’s “trust” – a deed that graphically did not go unpunished. In one of the most horrific lines in the film, Dr. G frantically tries to escape the country and (perhaps foolishly) goes to say his goodbye’s to Amin – only to be told that he has not completed his service to the country and president of Uganda. It’s a simple line when read in this review, but, when seen and delivered in context, the audience watches the horror leap across Dr. G’s face and into the very hearts of the folks watching the film. As the noose gets tighter and tighter around Dr. G’s proverbial neck as the film rolls on, the sense of fear and uneasiness takes over the theatre as well.

When Oprah had Forest Whitaker on her show to discuss this film in September 2006, she predicted that he’d be Oscar-nominated for his role. She was right. Vicious, menacing and hilariously horrific, Whitaker delivers the performance of his life in The Last King Of Scotland. I’ve only sat through it once, but it’s etched in my mind forever.

And, remember, don’t watch it with a date!

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