The Last King of Scotland (2006)

Fear the lazy eye.

Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) has just graduated from school and has no idea what to do with his life, nor how to make the best use of his talents. He then decides to spin his globe, stop it with his finger, and wherever it lands, he will go to and try out his profession there. Miraculously, his finger lands on Uganda, which leads him to an even more miraculous twist of fate when he becomes very close with Uganda’s most iconic, most barbaric figures in history: Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker). At first, they develop a friendship over sheer understanding and joyfulness of just being around one another, but once things in Uganda start to get hotter and more riotous, Amin’s true colors show, and their friendship becomes strained. So strained that James wants to leave and get the hell out of town, yet, what he doesn’t know is that when he accepted Amin’s friendship, he also accepted all of the problems and pitfalls that would come along with the man’s dictatorship as well.

It seems like every other year, we get a movie about Africa suffering and how the white people came into to try and sweep it all away. Sometimes they do work and offer us plenty of thoughts to toil around in our heads, and other times, they feel like a sad-sap attempt at a bunch of white Hollywood liberals trying to throw their guilt onto us. It’s almost as if we did something wrong, just by deciding to do nothing, even though they’re country has been killing themselves from the outside-in for many, many years, and hasn’t seem to slow itself down a bit. However, this is a movie review blog, and it shall stay as that. So all political-stances aside, let’s get back on with the movie we have at hand here.

"No, no. no, my fine people. Over 300,000 Ugandans dead is a good thing."
“No, no. no, my fine people. Over 300,000 Ugandans dead is a good thing.”

So yeah, The Last King of Scotland. Pretty good movie, want to know why? Well, remember what I was just talking about in the last paragraph about how Hollywood uses the suffering of Africa to make us all feel guilty and spoiled in our righteous minds? Well, surprisingly, director Kevin Macdonald doesn’t take that stance, and instead gives us a story about the powers of evil and corruption, and how easy it is to be succumbed by. While you can tell that Macdonald feels like Africa should have been better aided in terms of where they were headed and who could have helped them out, he surprisingly keeps things rooted in a sense of realism, despite the story being fictitious in a sense.

Don’t have me taken as an idiot: I know that Idi Amin was a real person and is considered one of the most notable faces of the 20th Century, but the story of the Scottish doctor, who later became his personal physician, only to become his personal whipping-boy, isn’t true. It’s simply a character used to place us in on the side-lines as we watch and witness all of the terrible things that Admin did throughout his reign as dictator of Uganda. However, we never quite get to see all of those terrible, horrible things, despite them being mentioned to many of times (most notably at the end when a post-script says that he killed over 300,000 Ugandans). We hear about the “disappearances” of the people closest Garrigan, and maybe one or two shots of being, *ahem*, shot and killed, but never anything so brutal and realistic to the point of where we understand this man’s brutality and horror that he bestowed upon citizens that he considered “his people”. Sounds like a weird complaint, I know, but it just made me feel like I was only getting Garrigan’s story, and nothing else; which felt like sort of a cheap-attempt at getting past all of terribly real, awful stories that actually happened, to real-life human-beings.

That said, it’s a movie, and I can’t hate on it for everything that it was supposed to be in my eyes, and not what it is. And what it is, if you must know, is a pretty solid movie considering how easily left-ended this flick could have went. The main character, Nicholas Garrigan could have easily been a distasteful piece of work that we not only love to hate, but want to see bad things happen to, just so we feel better about our own insecurities about not being as privileged, good-looking and as charming as he is. And for a quite awhile: He totally is that type of character. He’s snobby; he’s in way too over his head; he falls too quickly in love with the glamorous life that comes with the title of being the dictator’s “closest and most-trusted”; and he gets his magic-stick stuck in some places that no man would ever dream of being stuck, ever, and yet, we still care for him and want to see him come out of this whole situation alive.

A lot of that credit for making this character work deserves to go towards to Macdonald, but it also deserves to go to James McAvoy as well, because he’s able to make us sympathize with this dude, all because he shows us that he’s human, and what would a human like you or I do in the same type of situation he’s in? Would you throw away all possibilities of having a grand-spanking, awesome time living in it up in Uganda? Or, would you take it, follow the first instinct that comes to your mind in any given situation, and still live it up in Uganda? I feel like I would take it as well, especially knowing the type of guy I was dealing with in this type of situation; and for that, McAvoy deserves credit because he makes us feel like we’re watching a real, honest and truthful person that yes, makes a whole bunch of mistakes along the way, but still has his mind and heart in the right place to where you could see him pulling it all off at the end. Also, not forget to mention that every lady he runs into, instantly falls head-over-heels for him, and seconds later, fall right into the comforts of his own bed and living-space.

"Here is my third wife. You can bang her as you please. I have too many wives to keep a full-watch of."
“Here is my third wife. You can bang her as you please. I have too many wives to keep a full-watch of.”

Dirty, cad-like Scot. That Anne-Marie Duff sure is a lucky gal.

But as I’m sure you all know by now, even though McAvoy is the leading-character in this whole movie, he’s not the main centerpiece to what this story is really all about. Who is, is Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin, giving one of his greatest performances ever, and I’m not just saying that because he won an Oscar for this. No, he really is THAT good and shows us that he can take a famous, real-life figure such as Amin, spin the way we view him as a monster, and make us see the world and his decisions from his side of the desk. Don’t worry though, it’s not like the movie makes a reasonable-argument for the mass-murders that he committed under his reign and shows that he was just a troubled dude; no, instead, it gives us a glimpse at a real dude, who had lovable and charming features to him, but also had some very evil and monstrous ones as well, and sadly, they began to take over his whole persona later on in his life and in his reign. But where Whitaker succeeded the most in portraying this man was not by giving us a sympathetic figure, but by showing us just how pure hatred can overcome a man, take all of the nice qualities about his character away from him, and drive away any sort of logical thinking or reasoning from his mind. It’s scary to think that this guy who one second, could be hugging and kissing a bunch of Ugandan women and babies, telling them that “they’re the future faces of Uganda”, and then the next, could be yelling at the top of his lungs about how he wants respect and will stop at nothing to get it, even if violence is needed, and was the figure everybody believed into to save them all from their dreadful days of living and pick them right up from the ground. But what’s even scarier, is how well Whitaker allows us to see a man who obviously had nice things going for him, but just lost sight of what they were once his power became too big, even for him. Great performance, and it’s one that reminds me why this dude is the finest, working-actor out there today.

All Battlefield Earth jokes aside.

Consensus: Less of a character-study, and more of a look at how hatred, anger and evilness can boil inside a person’s mind for so long, The Last King of Scotland features Forest Whitaker’s best performance of all-time, one that goes beyond the usual, “noticeably, bad guy-gone-sympathetic” route we usually see from biopics, and instead, gives us a raw, unrelenting, gritty look at what the type of man he could have been, had he not gone so far off the radar with his own sense of self-worth.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"WE! WE! WE ARE UGANDA! And some white Scot."
“WE! WE! WE ARE! UGANDA! Along with some white Scottish dude.”

Photo’s Credit to:


  1. Good review. Whitaker is really that good. McAvoy is very good, also, just like you say. While the movie is solid (I agree completely with your score of it), the performances are actually better.

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