Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Last King of Scotland

2006, UK, directed by Kevin Macdonald

Set in Idi Amin's court, The Last King of Scotland is Kevin Macdonald's first fiction feature after two solid documentaries (Touching the Void and Four Days in September). He's less assured here, despite working with some historical characters - most obviously Amin himself, played with swagger and intensity by Forest Whitaker - as the latter half of the film sprawls out of control, stretching belief to breaking point. James McAvoy plays Nicholas Garrigan, a young Scottish doctor who heads to Uganda on a whim, and swiftly ends up as personal physician to the recently enthroned Amin, a man capable of warmth, generosity and, in the next instant, thuggery of stomach-churning proportions. To its credit, the film doesn't make Garrigan especially likeable: he's flip and wilfully oblivious to the fates of others, ignoring the realities around him until it's far too late. Unfortunately, the dangerous bedroom liaison in which Garrigan indulges doesn't have the ring of truth to it, even for a larrikin like him, and seriously undermines the film. In its attempts to craft a boozy white-man-loses-his-innocence tale, the film skates cursorily over the real events of Amin's Uganda; that's most egregiously true in the use of the Entebbe hijackings as a backdrop, but the expulsion of the Indian population, a forced migration that's still rippling around the globe, is also dealt with in summary fashion, while the horrors endured by the Ugandan population are relegated to a brief montage (though whatever the filmmakers' narrative shortcomings, they deserve credit for shooting their film on location). Whitaker's burly performance will attract the lion's share of critical attention, but Simon McBurney and an unrecognizable Gillian Anderson are also excellent in support; McAvoy's performance, by contrast, didn't seem best-suited to the rest of the film.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States