The Last King of Scotland

    The nation of Uganda has a long history of political and social strife. Since 1966, when the first prime minister overthrew the president, there has been a series of bloody and destructive power grabs. The most infamous of these military coups was the 1971 ascension of dictator Idi Amin, whose regime was also the bloodiest, with an estimated 300,000 people murdered by the end. The Last King of Scotland tells the story of Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a young doctor from Scotland who goes to Uganda looking for purpose, but instead winds up becoming complicit in the murder of hundreds of thousands of people.

    The film starts with an idealistic and naive young man looking to do something, something with meaning and excitement. He then decides to go to Uganda and serve as doctor with the church. Ostensibly he does this out of a need to help the less fortunate of the world, but his real motive is adventure and excitement (which he soon finds). Not long into his stay he comes across the newly empowered Ugandan President Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker) and quickly after finds himself appointed as the dictator’s personal physician.

    The bulk of the film follows the young doctor’s gradual realization of his own contributions to the tragic spiral of brutality Amin inflicts on the country. Like most dictators that seize power, Amin was welcomed and celebrated by the people. As he slowly became immersed in his own absolute power and corruption, his cruel and sadistic streak began to show. By the end of the film Garrigan learns this himself in vivid and painful detail when he is tortured under the president’s orders in an almost unimaginably vicious way.

    The performances presented by Forest Whitaker and James McAvoy in The Last King of Scotland are astounding. McAvoy as the young doctor is nearly perfect. His character is presented in an incredibly believable and understandable fashion – even though what he tricks himself into believing is destructive to the soul. The most startling performance, however, is that of Whitaker’s Idi Amin. He manages to capture Amin’s fractured and versatile personality, on the one hand charming and sincere – even likeable – and on the other paranoid and barbaric. Whitaker ably presents the hidden brutality of his character and the movie rests on his shoulders.

    Visually, The Last King of Scotland is filmed in a very modern and saturated way. This style works well with the subject matter, telling the story in a visually compelling manner. At times the use of the "shaky-cam" style seems unnecessary and over-used, but does not detract from the film in any major way – the visual presence of the movie remains gritty and powerful. It lends itself to subject matter that can be intense and powerful, as well as to more subdued moments.

    The story of The Last King of Scotland weaves fact and fiction effortlessly into a narrative that describes the truth of Idi Amin’s rule of Uganda. He was a brutal, sadistic man and he used torture and emotional manipulation to maintain his hold over those around him and the country of Uganda. While the story of a power-crazed dictator is not new, it is still compelling. The tyranny of one human over millions of others remains a terrifying possibility in our world and The Last King of Scotland shows us why.


The Last King of Scotland starts its limited release on Sept. 27.