January 25, 2007

Movie Review: The Last King of Scotland

You may not believe this, you may not even agree with this, but The Last King of Scotland bears a striking commonality with Dreamgirls. Yes, you read that right. A movie about an idealistic doctor having an epiphany while serving as Idi Amin's personal physician and confidante and a movie about a young singer standing up for herself and retaining her integrity have a relationship in my mind. It has nothing to do with the story, it has nothing to do with the themes, what it does have to do with are two performances.

Both of these films are completely carried by the performance of one of its actors. In Dreamgirls case it is Jennifer Hudson's electric and emotional portrayal of Effie White. In The Last King of Scotland it is Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin. It is a performance that makes up for the areas where the film may be somewhat lacking. Whitaker is simultaneously seductive and ferocious, delivering a charismatic performance of a man who, in reality, went beyond cruel and unusual.

The Last King of Scotland centers on Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy). He is a recent med school graduate, and being a young doctor, he is idealistic and ready to change the world. Rather than go into practice with his father, he decides to change his fate and gamble on a globe. Watching the globe spin, and come to a stop on Uganda, he decides to go there and try to do what he can. He is soon knee deep in a village, helping people and doding bullets as Idi Amin is rising to power. Uganda is in the midst of a coup.

Young Garrigan is curious about the new leader, so he attends a rally to welcome the new President. This leds directly to the two men meeting. The doctor so impresses the paranoid Amin, that the latter offers the former the prestigious position of personal physician. It is an opportunity that he cannot refuse.

Taking the position forever changes Garrigan's life. Initially he is sucked in by the sheer charisma of the man. It is hard to say no to a man that seems so likeable, someone who gives you everything you need. It is a power that will allow a man to turn a blind eye and ignore the rumors and the signs that there is something much more dark at work. Seriously, no one wants to believe that their friend is leading a double life, that they are deliberately misleading you, keeping secrets from you. Friendship is a powerful thing, and Idi Amin shows just what it is capable of. It can be a joyous thing, it can bring meaning to your life, but, as shown here, it can also be used to manipulate those around you.

Nicholas Garrigan's eyes are slowly opened to the growing horror around him. He slowly realizes the atrocities being committed by the man he thought was his friend. The dynamic of their relationship changes and Garrigan will never be the same again.

This is not a biopic, although there are a number of real world people portrayed. It is a fictional tale using the Garrigan character to give us insight into the world of Amin. This is a movie that is made for the West. It does not give an African point of view, rather it imports a Scotsman to provide a vehicle with which we can identify easier. Whether or not this is the right choice is not really a valid question. It is merely a plot device which happens to work quite well, at least for me.

Still, I found Garrigan to be a lot less interesting than I had hoped. Forest Whitaker's Idi Amin is the drawing factor. This is the story of Amin and his increasing paranoia and thirst for power and desires to control all that is around him. Whitaker sinks his teeth into the role, taking hold with all his might and delivering this wild, yet finely controlled performance that is impossible to ignore.

Bottomline. This is definitely a good movie, but it is brought up a level by Forest Whitaker. It is interesting to see a good film tha contains a great performance, it has the ability to completely change your perception of the film. I have a feeling that without Whitaker, this would not have been nearly as involving as it is. See this for Whitaker and enjoy the rest.



Post a Comment