The Last King of Scotland was a pretty good movie. Generally, when I write a review or analysis or whatever you want to call it, I precede my opinion of the film with a lot of hullabaloo. Sometimes three to four paragraphs of nonsense until I finally get to the point, in this case, I thought it smart to state my opinion of the film first, and then do all the hullabaloo and caca that I like to write.
I say The Last King of Scotland was a pretty good movie because it wasn’t a bad movie, but it didn’t knock my socks off. It was an above average film, but I wasn’t blown away. It wasn’t mediocre; it was better than mediocre. It just wasn’t all that special.
Now, if you must go see this film, don’t just wear general movie socks, because like I said they won’t get knocked off. If you go into this film wearing Forest Whitaker socks, they will probably get blown off, because Forest Whitaker is an amazing actor. It’s just kind of unfortunate that the whole reason to watch this movie isn’t even the focus of the film.
The Last King of Scotland follows Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a Scot doing some volunteer medical work in Uganda at the beginning of Idi Amin’s rise to power. Garrigan and Amin cross paths and become quick friends. The gist of the rest of it is that Garrigan eventually becomes a top advisor for Amin but doesn’t realize or pay attention to the truly evil shit that Amin is involved in.
Let me tell you why I didn’t like this angle. The set-up, the process through which we must wade to get to the meat of the story, is remarkably self-aware and pedantic. I kept getting the feeling of “going through the motions” of a kid-in-over-his-head story. I was getting flashbacks of Boogie Nights, except not awesome, just kind of boring. It was like the director (Kevin Macdonald) was just nodding at us for the first hour, saying “Yea, this is all just a formality, wait ‘til we get to the good stuff.”
When we finally get our first reveal of what kind of person Idi Amin actually is, then you get the sense that the film is getting more comfortable with itself and letting things hang out a bit. What does it say about Kevin Macdonald that the films most well executed scenes involve violence, anger and torture? It was kind of like you playing with your sister. She has Barbies, and you have G.I. Joes, you just kind of humor her while she arranges the house and living area and sets up the wedding and does all the boring stuff, and you’re just waiting for the evil terrorists to come in and kidnap Barbie.
Like I said, if you really need a reason to see this movie, it would be Forest Whitaker. He plays Amin like you can really imagine he would have been. He’s this goofy, super-friendly and overly charismatic best pal to almost everyone, until he starts to lose his shit and realize that he to is in way over his head. Perhaps that's why Garrigan and Amin got along so well, neither of them had a fucking clue about what was going on. Whitaker has no problem switching between the charismatic best-friend and the lost-his-shit dictator. If that isn’t enough justification for him to have won that Academy Award, I don’t know what is.
I’m wondering how the film would have been if it ha broken its traditional lateral story telling and perhaps had broken form with an Alejandro González Iñárritu-style fractured narrative. Maybe starting at the end of the story and then peppering the film with tidbits of how they ended up there. It’s a style that’s been done, but in the right hands its done well. The Last King of Scotland could have benefited a lot from being jazzed up a bit. It could have been so much more brutal and more unflinching in its portrayal of Amin and his surroundings and not left the weight of the picture on Forest Whitakers shoulders.