"The Last King of Scotland" wastes an excellent story
Most of the truly horrendous leaders start out as saviors. They're the people who promise you peace and prosperity in times of tragedy and turmoil, but ultimately succumb to corruption and too much power. In "The Last King of Scotland," the leader in question is Idi Amin, president of Uganda, played with jarring power by Forest Whittaker. And while the film, based on a true story, has a tremendously talented cast and good intentions, these are not enough to save it from a lack of focus.
In the beginning, it is in Scotland, 1970, where we meet Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy, Mr. Tumnus the faun in "The Chronicles of Narnia"), a newly graduated doctor who just wants to make a difference. To get away from the family practice to which he seems destined, he ends up in Uganda, where he quickly becomes the friend of President Idi Amin, who has recently taken power in a military coup. As Nicholas rises quickly up the ranks of the government, he becomes increasingly secluded from the people whom he originally came to help. Many plot twists, montages and revelations later, Nicholas realizes that Amin's charm is a cover for his murderous aspirations.
"The Last King of Scotland" has, somewhere in it, a good story that should be told. Without Whittaker, the film would not have this redeeming story. As Amin, Whittaker's every gesture holds a deadly combination of charm and cunning. If the filmmakers had just presented his story, it would have been a much better movie. But pseudo-artsy shots and montages just weigh the film down, and deprive it of the realism that is evident in other movies about Africa such as "Hotel Rwanda." The real Amin used his everyman status to gain thousands of followers, but his regime turned deadly, and he used horrifying tactics to silence dissidents. His story is one that deals with the idea that power is a corrupting influence, and even the most friendly and seemingly jovial of people can turn into killers.
The supporting cast features some outstanding actors, especially the women who have limited roles as Nicholas' lovers. Kerry Washington (Chenille in "Save the Last Dance") delivers a star-making performance as Amin's third wife, giving dimension to a character who seemingly has three roles — concerned mother, seductress and basketcase. Gillian Anderson is similarly strong as an aid worker but plays a role that is ultimately unnecessary. Therein lies one of Nicholas' problems — he may want to help out, but he's just an immature kid who sees women as objects and expects the world to stop for him. As for McAvoy, he is essentially a likeable young actor who gives a solid, but uninteresting, performance.
Of course, this may be the message sent by the filmmakers. Nicholas is unlikable and he's made plenty of mistakes, most of them related to his libido, but his race is enough to shed light upon the horrors happening under Amin. The film features a poignant message, but one that is obscured by the attempts to make it engaging. While it presents a devastating look at world perceptions of Africa and displays several award-worthy performances, "The Last King of Scotland" is lost beneath good intentions.
"The Last King of Scotland" (121 minutes, Landmark's Bethesda Row Cinema and Landmark's E. Street Cinema.) is rated R for some strong violence and gruesome images, sexual content and language.
Becca Sausville. Becca is a senior who is keeping the dinosaur dream alive. She loves Silver Chips a lot, possibly more than life itself. More »