Amin is crazed

The Last King of Scotland

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            “The Last King of Scotland” is one of those movies – “Blood Diamond” is another – that stops you cold and forces you to look at life in a bigger way than you did just before you walked into the theater. Uganda is real; Idi Amin was real. The fact that 300,000 Ugandans died under his regime is real. The terrible kick of this movie comes partly from its truth and partly from the mesmerizing performance of Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin.

            The movie opens with a fine scene of a newly minted doctor, Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), in full blown internal rebellion at his father’s assumption that he will join him in his medical practice. On the second spin of a table globe to determine where he will go for his escape, Nicholas picks Uganda. Traveling with little but his medical bag and his Scottish identity, the young man leaps out of his father’s plan and reports for work at an African clinic run by Dr. Merrit (Adam Kotz) with the help of his wife Sarah (Gillian Anderson).

            This short section of the movie is particularly moving because the Merrits, beautifully acted by Kotz and Anderson, are examples of those very rare, selfless people we admire but usually fail to emulate. They help people without a moment’s thought of themselves. They are British in Africa and they simply work around the clock to cure or alleviate the grim illnesses that come through the door of their clinic. That’s it.

            Nicholas works alongside them with a growing sense of dedication until one day he is called on to fix a minor injury for Idi Amin. Amin, entranced by the young man’s Scottish background and the fact that he has the strength to talk back, convinces him to become his personal doctor and advisor. From that moment forward, the movie belongs to Forest Whitaker. He creates a madman who shows moments of charm which usually precede hideous outbursts of brutality. It is Nicholas’s lot to see slowly through the charm to the evil essence of the man within. Amin is crazed.

            Once again we watch what happens when such people gain power and use it to exact obedience from ordinary people. It is hard to recommend a movie that is this hard to watch, but remember before saying no, that though it is fiction, this man was real. This is happening, as it always has, in countries all over the world, but the stakes are bigger now, so a new element of fear infects the story. Forest Whitaker gives us the fright of our lives in this man who sprayed his cruelty at random and without reason. There comes a point where melodrama intrudes, but just when we are ready to become critical, the reality of the man and his genocide overwhelm any flaws. Forest Whitaker has given us something awful to remember.

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