The Last King of Scotland ****
The entire movie year is all buildup for the September-December months. I may have sat through some great films in the last eight months, but for the most part, they have been garbage. Films so bad that the studios don't even want to release them. But now, after all of my patience, it finally pays off with the mark of Oscar season, and with "The Last King of Scotland," the Oscar race officially begins. After such disappointments as "The Black Dahlia," I finally think the cream of the crop will reveal itself. This film is nothing short of great, not to mention compelling, and featuring Forest Whitaker in the performance of his career. This seems to be the role that he was born to play, capturing the exactly qualities of former president of Uganda, Idi Amin. Seeing some of the photos during the credits, he even looks just like him. Promising to bring a fair government to the country of Uganda, Amin ended up being a murderer, and was responsible for 300,000 murders during his power. I was sucked into this film from the very first minute, and it doesn't let go. During the last twenty five minutes, I couldn't take my eyes off the screen, because it was so chilling.
"The Last King of Scotland" begins with Nicholas Garrigan, a Scot who just finished medical school. He is now destined to follow his father's footsteps, and work with him throughout his career. This isn't good enough for Garrigan, so he grabs a globe of the world and spins it, claiming that the first place he lands, he goes. The winner is. . . Canada. He considers it, and then decides against it. So he spins again, this time landing on Uganda. This might be just the place for him. He goes into Uganda, and finds himself the only other doctor in the whole country. He also learns that 80 percent of everyone living there prefer the witch doctor as opposed to a medical one. Nicolas walks right into Uganda history. The previous president is dead, and he is now being replaced by Idi Amin, a self appointed leader who promises to return Uganda to the people, and to bring a well organized government to the country. Nicolas cheers with the rest of the crowd, but on his way back to the campsite, Amin's guards comes out in trucks, calling for a doctor. Amin was hurt by an animal, and needs someone to cater to his injured hand. Nicolas willingly goes to the president, and heals him. Amin has the feeling that Nicolas is British, the race that he hates the most, but is charmed when Nicolas reveals himself to be Scottish. Amin loves the Scots, mainly because they are in conflict with the British. Amin states "if I could be any other race than the one I am now, it would be Scottish." Amin decides that he wants this man to be his full time doctor. Nicolas leaves the other doctor, and his wife who he developed feelings for, and goes to live with Amin. He has a great time. Amin is charming, introduces Nicolas to his three wives, and has the power to talk anyone into loving him. But slowly, Nicolas begins to see another side to Amin. He is constantly paranoid, and even murders anyone with the slightest doubt about his rule. Nicolas decides that he wants to get out of this situation, and decides to leave, if only he can escape the fierce grip that Amin is holding on him.
"The Last King of Scotland" is told mainly through the eyes of Nicholas Garrigan, a character who is so real that it is amazing that he isn't a portrayal of a real person. Garrigan is really a combination of many of Amin's actual doctors, all rolled up into one person, more or less. It has a very interesting way of telling the story, as if we were the people of Uganda who were deceived by Amin. It begins as a delightful experience, almost a full comedy. Hell, there was even a flatulence joke somewhere in the middle. And then it just gets worse and worse, and more brutal, until the final climax where everything just explodes. The final half hour of this film is so haunting and chilling that you won't be able to take your eyes off of it. But this is what it was like for these people. They saw something in Amin, and really thought that he would be able to save them. They were tricked, and so will you be. You'll be so convinced that Amin is a good guy, that you'll completely forget that there's a second half of the movie, where things could only get worse.
What I also loved about "The Last King of Scotland" was that it was an Oscar movie, that doesn't seem like one. This was a gritty and realistic portrayal of a historical event, instead of something glorified by Hollywood like "The Aviator." This one actually makes you feel something, and requires time to think and digest what you have just seen, instead of only being entertained by it. And Forest Whitaker truly blows everyone else out of the water. His Amin slowly gets worse and worse, and more and more evil. Amin is probably one of the most evil men that I could think of, and strongly diabolical as a movie character. James McAvoy, who played Nicholas, delivers well too, but his character leads me to a point of criticism. Even though he was a great character, and is played very well, I really could have lived with less of Nicholas and his relationship with the pretty doctor, played by "X-Files" Gillian Anderson, and more of Amin and their relationship. Looking back, this relationship seemed almost pointless, and filler that just wasn't needed. You don't really mind it much while watching it, but afterwards, when all is done, you want more Amin, and more Whitaker.
This is one of the best films of the year, and by far the most terrifying. It grabs you from the start and doesn't let go. It has one of the smoothest transitions from a light hearted experience, to a dark and creepy one. If Whitaker isn't nominated at the Oscars next year for Best Actor, it would be a crime, worse than when Paul Giamatti lost a nomination opportunity to Clint Eastwood back in 2005. A dark, gritty, a true to life historical experience, this is the kind of history that I would rather watch, instead of something that is conceived by Hollywood. This steers clear of Hollywood history cliches, and works in favor of that. There's nothing to complain about watching "The Last King of Scotland."