DVD Review: The Last King of Scotland, Part I

by Hilary Crowe

Like many a Western co-ed, Ugandan politics are not my forte, and Idi Amin wasn’t even a blip on my radar. This could have easily been filed under high school film strip garbage, “Idi Amin: the Man and the Myth.” But director Kevin Macdonald calls on his Oscar-winning documentary film-making mettle to peddle this staggering masterpiece of historical fiction and is aided by fellow Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker.

The Last King of Scotland (released last month on DVD by Fox Searchlight Pictures) is based on the 1999 fiction novel of the same name by British journalist Giles Foden. So, it is easy for the average viewer to mistakenly take this as fact. But among the DVD’s few extras is a half-hour documentary on Amin’s 1971-1979 regime, complete with interviews and anecdotes from Ugandan locals and actors who lived under Amin, journalists who covered him and lent themselves to producers and actors for advice, and former advisors and physicians to Amin. Here is where the viewer is able to separate fact from fiction, and realize that the movie, though told through the eyes of fictitious physician Nicolas Garrigan, is about Amin (played by Whitaker), and captures the man’s enigmatic persona better and more pointedly than any straight-forward documentary film could ever hope.

Despite these sobering stories of corroborating carnage, it’s difficult to view Whitaker’s Amin as barbaric or capable of having any blood on his hands whatsoever. A supreme nationalist, he loved his country and its history. One would think, then, that he loved his people. Most people are skeptical of such self-proclaimed liberators, as they seem to slip into the regime routine by the morning after – absolute power corrupts absolutely. But with the charismatic Amin, this does not seem so. Whitaker gives a human face to the Jekyll-and-Hyde character, an adorable, bear-hugging jester one minute, paranoid political pariah the next.

(Publicity photo of Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland from Fox Searchlight Pictures; Whitaker's performance won this year's Academy Award for Best Actor.)

(For the second part of this review, please scroll down or click here.)

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News Media Studier said...

I saw this film last weekend and thought it was very good. Forest was simply amazing. It's interesting that you say the movie was based on a work of fiction because before the opening credits, it said it was based on actual events.

Hilary Crowe said...

The work of historical fiction it was based on was, since it is HISTORICAL fiction, based on actual events. Idi Amin was real, as was his dictatorship, but there was no single Scottish physician like Nicolas. Amin's wife Kay was not really, admittedly, murdered by Amin. There are deviations from the truth that make it fiction. Think of the whole James Frey/ A Million Little Pieces scandal. That's why the film is labeled fiction.

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