Posted by: Ben | January 21, 2009

100 Movies: The Last King Of Scotland

(Film. Macdonald. UK, 2006)

There really can’t be enough films about dictators. In an early scene in The Last King of Scotland, Idi Amin (Whitaker) arrives in the Ugandan village where Nicholas Garrigan (McAvoy) is working as a doctor. Still riding the waves of public support after his recent coup, Whitaker gives a resounding speech heavy with national and ethnic pride. The crowd responds with euphoria, McAvoy as much as anybody. Soon he’s Whitaker’s personal doctor, and leading a glamorous and exciting lifestyle, driving around Kampala in a Mercedes convertible.

It would be nice to have gone back to the village later on to see how it fares, but that isn’t really The Last King Of Scotland’s thing. As a result of its tight focus on McAvoy, the wider picture is sort virtually lost and most of the effects of the Amin regime are only felt second hand.

Still, dictators, from Richard III to Saddam Hussein, are great fun for an actor. Whitaker is brilliant, utterly dominating the screen with a larger-than-life performance that Brian Blessed would be proud of, if you know what I mean.

“Did somebody order a Large Ham?”

McAvoy’s character is plenty thick, which doesn’t help. Quite apart from the wilful blindness to the evils of the regime that is sort of the point of the film, they should have some sort of personality test for voluntary medical workers going to developing countries. Would you have sex with your best friend’s wife while your friend was in the next room? What if your best friend happened to be a murderous paranoid dictator with bodyguards who are licensed to torture? How about trying to assassinate him? Would you do that?

The conclusion is a bit rubbish, too. You know that helpful black character that has hardly any personality but is expected to take a bullet for the hero? He shows up here, and frankly he’s not too happy about it.

Still, none of that is the point. This is a film about one man, one evil and seriously deranged man, and when it lets Whitaker get onscreen and chew the scenery it taps into the human urge to be entertained by very scary people and the certain knowledge that they’re (a) on the other side of the screen from you, and (b) dead.

Obligatory War On Terror Reference: Well, there’s the torture, which is quite War On Terror. And the brief glimpse of the Palestinian hijackers identifies them as such by their terrorist scarves, which are not only very War On Terror but extremely fashionable.


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