Movie Review 2008 #23: The Last King of Scotland

Forest Whitaker gives an Oscar-winning performance as Idi Amin in this story of a Scottish Doctor (James McAvoy) who comes to know the brutal, charismatic dictator of Uganda.

My friend Mike strongly recommended this to me, and I am glad he did.
The center of the movie is McAvoy’s Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, a Scot who comes to Uganda and after a chance encounter with Amin, becomes a personal physician, advisor and confidant to the brutal dictator. Spoiled, rich and blind, the story of the movie is about his awakening to the realities and brutalities of Amin and his regime.
At least, that’s the way the movie is written and how it is intended. And McAvoy does a decent job with his role. Not spectacular but solid acting.
Yet, all of this is thrown into eclipse by Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin. Every moment on the screen he is on works, and once he makes an appearance, the movie suffers when the movie shuffles him offscreen. He takes over the role and the movie in a real and palpable way that cannot be denied. His Amin is by turns magnetic, charming, charismatic, brutal, dangerous, and insane. Whitaker captures each of these in turn, changing his mood in an instant, and it never, ever feels false.
Whitaker was nominated for (and won) an Oscar for this role, and now that I’ve seen it, I can confirm that it would have been a miscarriage of justice had he not won. It’s a good movie…but its a stellar performance and one worth watching for Whitaker’s role alone. It is a brutal film, though, once the violence and dark nature of Amin’s regime, always lurking, comes out on the screen in full. Definitely not a film for kids.