"In any country there must be people who have to die. They are the sacrifices any nation has to make to achieve law and order."
Movie-Hype #724 - THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND
Forest Whitaker had for a long time been one of my “boys” (that group of actors who are incredibly talented but are consistently overlooked by Hollywood for commendation and major roles), so I was ecstatic when the Oscar buzz came, followed by the nomination and victory for Whitaker’s portrayal of Ugandan Dictator Idi Amin. Having lived in a neighboring country during part of Amin’s rein, my dad and I were particularly excited to see THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND. We came away more impressed than ever with Whitaker, but a tad let down overall.
[By the way, I’m assuming you know, but if for some reason you don’t know anything about Idi Amin, first: hang your head in shame, and second, go read his Wikipedia Page.]
First: by no means is Idi Amin the main character. Though Whitaker won for “Best Actor,” the central figure is a ficticious Scottish doctor (Nicholas Garrigan), played by James McAvoy. I don’t know if it was the disparate acting ability or the people they portrayed, but when Whitaker is on screen you can’t take your eyes off of him. The film was a British production based on a British novel (loosely based on the life of a Brit who spent time in Uganda), so in some ways it’s natural we’d see the Ugandan world through those eyes.
And, you judge the movie you have, not the movie you’d like to have. Still, Idi Amin is so controversial and compelling a figure, and Whitaker so amazing at playing him, I’d wanted to see so much more there. Absent is any attempt to explain the “cause” of Amin’s mercurial, and by turns charming and brutal behavior. One might say you can never explain evil, but I find that facile. Today in Uganda Amin is regarded as a hero by most of the people. Rather than just assert outside Western understanding and values, I want to know more about that. What made this man the way he was, and what made the people love him?
However, unless Whitaker does a sequel, we’ll never know. I am glad I got to see him in action, and any treatment of Africa is welcome when for so long it has been ignored by Hollywood (I’m not going to look a gift fad in the mouth, even as I know it can’t last), but overall THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND gave me more thirst than it quenched.
Suspension of Disbelief: 3 (out of 10). Supposed to be an accurate account, with an understanding that they compressed events, etc. Personally, I think they made too much up, and for a “historical” movie, that’s a valid complaint.
Genre Grade: Do we go with Historical Epic or the new Genre Africa, We Hardly Knew Ye? Either way, B-.
Sex/Language Violence? Quite a bit. Nothing Tarantellian or Scorsesian, but not for kids.
Pantheon Percentile: Given Forest Whitaker’s remarkable performance, and the historical nature of the film (in other words, as it’s already happened, topicality isn’t an issue), LAST KING OF SCOTLAND has more of a shelf life than a film of similar quality. I wouldn’t own this, but I might watch it again at a friend’s house. 72. (Meaning, it’s better than 72% of the movies that came before.)