Michael Joyce reviews The Last King of Scotland
PUBLISHED: 11:10 13 January 2007 | UPDATED: 10:30 07 September 2010
The Last King of Scotland (15) Directed by Kevin MacDonald. Starring Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Simon McBurney, Gillian Anderson. 121 mins Four star rating Forest Whitaker may be one of the best screen actors around anywhere. Gues
The Last King of Scotland (15) Directed by Kevin MacDonald. Starring Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Simon McBurney, Gillian Anderson. 121 mins
Four star rating
Forest Whitaker may be one of the best screen actors around anywhere. Guest starring in the last series of US cop show The Shield, he was so remarkably good that some weeks at the end of the episode I'd want to stand up and applaud. He went into one of the best shows and casts on TV and turned it on its head, came up with moves I'd never seen before.
Having him as Idi Amin is perfect casting and he gives a tremendous performance. But
it's exactly the tremendous performance you anticipate, he doesn't surprise you. And that is true of the film in general. It's all you could hope it would be - but nothing more.
I only mention that because director MacDonald's previous film, the masterly mountaineering feature Touching The Void, was so much more than you could have expected it to be. This film is a first move into the world of fictional drama for MacDonald and the transition is accomplished smoothly enough. Shot on location in Uganda, he delivers a gripping tale, a movie that feels substantial enough for you to skip reading the Giles Foden novel it is adapted from.
The movie's route into Amin's heart of darkness is the journey of a fictional figure Nicholas Garrigan (McAvoy), a young medical student who goes to work in Uganda on a whim. His stated aim is a desire to make a difference but really he just doesn't want his carefree student lifestyle to end just yet.
If you were scoring the mighty acting head-to-head between Whitaker and McAvoy on points, you might just be inclined to give it to the young Scot. He pulls off the tricky balancing act of being charming enough to get the audience to root for him, while never disguising the fact that this selfish, vain, naïve and randy young man is just a little bit of a monster himself.
One slight misgiving is an unease about the merging of fact and fiction. It works in novels but is harder to take in a movie, particularly a "realistic" one. I went in not knowing and during the film I think I'd convinced myself that Garrigan had to have been a real person. When I found out at the end that he was basically made up (although he encompassed aspects of various real people) I felt a little let down. But ignore my grouching - this is a great film.