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last king of scotland
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The Last King of Scotland

Starring Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Simon McBurney and Gillian Anderson
Screenplay by Peter Morgan and Jeremy Brock
Based on the novel by Giles Foden
Directed by Kevin MacDonald

IN SHORT: Extraordinary performance by Forest Whitaker in a substantial, serious, pay the money and see it on the big screen. [Rated R for some strong violence and gruesome images, sexual content and language. 121 minutes]

Idi Amin. Big strong guy. Liberator of Uganda. Hero to the people. Big man with Big humor and a small fixation on Scotland. Here's a story of how the world actually discovered that Amin was a genocidal maniac. It's not the story -- one protagonist is a fictional composite of several real life personages -- but it's a darn impressive story that will both entertain and horrify. Be warned, there is some physical torture shown on the screen that had us squirming in our seat.

Actually it's the story of a freshly diploma'd Scotsman doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) who, appalled at the notion of going into practice with his aging doctor dad, heads to Africa to do good works for the truly needy. Specifically, Uganda. A country whose governmental despot has just been overthrown by a military coup led by General Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker). As first seen, the people are dancing in the streets in joy at their liberation. "Amin fights for the people! It is a very happy day for us!" one happy girl proclaims. We are left to assume the colonial connection between Uganda and the UK as the film doesn't delve deeply into that history. Suffice it to say that while most of the Brits down on the so-called dark continent tend to stick together near the center of governmental power, Our Hero joins another brave doctor, David Merrit (Adam Kotz) and his wife Sarah (Gillian Anderson) and takes the medicine out into the boondocks.

That first bus ride into the hinterlands brings us our first glimpse of Amin and shows the people hailing the man as a great and beloved hero. Nicholas and Sarah see this adulation first hand as Amin makes a tour through their neck of the bush and then get pulled into the inner circle when a minor traffic accident -- Amin's car hits a steer -- brings a summons to attend to the liberator's injured hand. Nicholas takes liberties, this involving the aforementioned steer and Amin's personal space, that no one who knows Amin would take (for reasons at this point unrevealed). In response, Amin decides that this great Scots doctor -- Amin has apparently proclaimed himself to be King of Scotland, which should be the first warning sign of the man's delusions -- should become his newest, bestest friend; to serve at his side as his personal physician and also to revamp the medical infrastructure of the country. So far so good.

Watch carefully for the facial reaction of the former personal physician to Amin. It is greatly underplayed and, by doing so, greatly strengthens the horror to come. As Garrigan moves deeper into Amin's court, he is somehow sheltered from seeing the horrors playing out all around him. Sooner or later Amin's paranoia and lunacy takes out all close to him, but the physical depiction of that horror is still an hour off and involves an airplane hijacked by Palestinians, forced to land at an airport called Entebbe.

Ah, we can hear the eyebrows of our audience rising in recognition of the event. While the world may remember Entebbe for the attack by Israeli commandos, this story pegs its climax to an earlier liberation of the non-Jewish hostages and ties it to the ultimate fate of Dr. Garrigan. No that does not mean what you think it means. It does mean you'll need a strong stomach to get through it. You have been warned.

And, as the films get more serious with aim set on Oscar -- don't be naive, this film has nominations galore to garner -- we crack down with the usual dollar rating. It is far easier for a great popcorn flick to get a "higher grade" from us. We just try to avoid falling into the film-student-think trap that always seemed to mark other reviewer's work. The Last King of Scotland is serious fare. It is also a really good piece of filmmaking.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Last King of Scotland , he would have paid . . .


It is far too easy for any actor to play evil in the Snidely Whiplash mode. Forest Whitaker doesn't go that route. We already know the man is a good actor. In Last King of Scotland his performance goes far beyond anything we've previously seen out of him. Definitely worthy of a nomination for you-know-what down the line. Positively the best performance we've seen so far this year.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.