Rated (15 years and up)
ONE of the darkest chapters in African history comes under the spotlight in this enjoyable drama examining the friendship between a naive Scottish doctor and Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada.
Forest Whitaker is already being tipped for an Oscar for his awesome performance as the brutal tyrant, but co-star James McAvoy is just as good in his less starry role.
Based on the novel by Giles Foden, McAvoy plays recently-qualified medic Nicholas Garrigan who decides to leave his native Scotland to help the poor. After spinning a globe in his bedroom, he randomly picks the African country and heads to a remote village to work in a small clinic.
But after a chance encounter with Amin, Nick accepts the offer of a job as his personal physician, a decision that will eventually put him in terrible danger. And he doesn’t help things by falling for Idi’s girl (Kerry Washington).
Kicking off just before Amin’s 1971 coup, the country’s new leader comes across as an endearingly eccentric character who only wants the best for his people. But with power comes paranoia, leading to appalling cruelty which Nick unwittingly becomes party to.
The Last King Of Scotland isn’t a film that particularly surprises.
Right from the off it’s easy to see where things are going, a problem not helped by some extremely heavy-handed symbolism. In one scene early on, we see Nick literally getting blood on his hands while witnessing the torture of some would-be assassins.
Then, as his world comes crashing down later in the movie, we get to see birds of prey circling. Nice cinematic flourishes maybe, but a bit obvious.
Yet for all that, it’s a riveting and brilliantly paced film. We may know what’s around the corner, but it’s still a great journey.
Performance-wise, it seems certain Whitaker will get that Oscar nod for superbly conveying Amin’s weird mix of buffoonery and cold-bloodedness.
McAvoy, meanwhile, probably won’t get the recognition he deserves. He brilliantly gets across the ‘My God, is this really happening to me?’ wonder of his situation at the start, although later it becomes very hard to relate to his character since it’s unclear whether we should pity or condemn him.
Apparently his part is based on Bob Astles, a Kent factory foreman who became the dictator’s right-hand man and who now lives anonymously in Wimbledon.
But whatever its flaws, The Last King Of Scotland is entertaining enough to be the first great film of 2007.
On a separate note, London’s ICA is now showing General Idi Amin Dada, a 1974 documentary shot with the dictator’s co-operation that’s as disturbing as it is utterly fascinating.
The movie is on in London !
By Shortcut, For African Press in Norway, APN