Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Last King of Scotland (2006)

You would have thought I would have seen this movie already, but I never got around to seeing Forest Whitaker's academy award performance especially with all the hype it had. Well the hype was right. The Last King of Scotland is a film that is exceptional, and Whitaker's performance adds to the films tenacity. The film is directed by Kevin Macdonald who is familiar with directing documentaries such as A Brief History of Errol Morris, and Touching the Void. It is Macdonald's understanding about documentaries that makes The Last King of Scotland such an effective film. The plot is a simple one: "In the early 1970s, Nicholas Garrigan, a young semi-idealistic Scottish doctor, comes to Uganda to assist in a rural hospital. Once there, he soon meets up with the new President, Idi Amin". Garrigan becomes an advisor and slowly realizes what type of a man Amin really is.

The performances in the film are all stunning. James McAvoy plays Nicholas Garrigan who at first is naive and a man who is seeking thrills and adventure as well as trying to be helpful as a doctor in a poor country. Gillian Anderson is even in the film, and she plays a doctors wife who is sort of attracted to Garrigan. Anderson's part is brief, but very effective, and it sets up for us what type of character Garrigan is.
What attracted me to the film is the cinematography, and the way Macdonald uses it. There are zooms, and a bit of hand held camera work which made me feel as though I were looking at a documentary. With Whitaker's performance so convincing I was transfixed on what was happening was real. It's a good trick and one that Macdonald uses convincingly.
What bothers me about this film is that it is said that it is based on true accounts, and if you follow Amin's history that's partially true. The affair that Garrigan has with one of Amin's wives is true, but Garrigan's character is based on several people who were around Amin. The doctor who had the affair was a doctor from the hospital who commited sucide after Amin butchered the wife. Amin also ruled Uganda for several years. From 1971 to 1979 Amin brutally ruled over Uganda and commited attrocities that claimed a total of 500,000 to 600,000 Ugandans. Growing up in the 1970's I do remember headlines of newspapers claiming Amin a "cannibal", and the film touches on this too. So the film is a fictional account of a doctor who witnesses Amins accent to power and his decent into tyranny. The thing about films like "The Last King of Scotland" is that some people may consider the character Garrigan as real when in actuality he isn't. Films that claim to be based on real events do take liberties of the truth, and sometimes people confuse fact from fiction. But of course the selling point of the film is that it is "BASED" on actual events that happened in Uganda during Amin's reign.
There are a lot of historical and documentary evidence on Amin's reign of terror. One of those documentaries is a film called "Général Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait ", and it is directed by Barbet Schroeder. The film was shot by one of my favorite cinematographers the late Néstor Almendros. The documentary is a chilling look at Amin, and the type of person he really was.
The Last King of Scotland is a good film, and one that rightfully earned Whitaker his Academy Award. Go see the film, and be prepared to be stunned at how brutal one man can be to his own people. A really well made film, and one that shouldn't be missed. It's also good fillmaking at its best.

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