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Review: The Last King of Scotland

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The Last King of Scotland belongs to Forest Whitaker, but the rest of the cast give stellar performances as well. I see Oscar nods for Whitake here. This is a “must see” movie. Read on:

Based on Giles Foden’s novel of the same name, The Last King of Scotland is a gripping work of historical fiction that explores the reign of infamous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and the moral disintegration of a good-hearted but callow young Scottish doctor who becomes the ruler’s confidante.

Directed by documentary filmmaker Kevin Macdonald from a screenplay adaptation by Peter Morgan and Jeremy Brock, The Last King follows Dr. Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) who comes to Uganda in the early 1970s to work at a missionary clinic just as Amin (Forest Whitaker) takes control of the country in a military coup.

After tending to an injured Amin, Garrigan soon finds himself the apple of the dictator’s eye and eventually his closest advisor. A product of the British army, Amin has a fascination with Scottish culture and customs after serving with Highland regiments. He gave his sons Scottish names and incorporated Scottish dress and bagpipes into Ugandan military processions. Nicholas ultimately becomes like a son to Amin, and the young doctor is too starstruck to see the cruelty of the man he once thought was the hope of his new homeland.

When Garrigan finally realizes how close to the devil he has allowed himself to get, it’s almost too late to extract himself from the situation. Nicholas’ moral blindness and reckless behavior triggers brutal repercussions; only historical events beyond his control can possibly save him.

Amin is not portrayed as merely a bad guy. He is a multi-faceted person, vicious at one moment and a big teddy bear the next. He genuinely loves his country and despises the British who helped create him. In an interesting commentary on post-colonialism, the film shows how both Nicholas — a Scot — and Amin — a Ugandan — are products of British rule. Yet Nicholas is ultimately no better than all the other white men who indulged their base natures at the expense of Africans.

Garrigan may have come to Uganda to help people, but — like a corporation there to exploit the locals for their natural resources — he seduces local women and enjoys the good life that his association with Amin provides him, all the while remaining blind to the brutal truth. It’s not until he causes others to suffer that Nicholas realizes what he’s become.

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