Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
With the Academy Awards come and gone I must admit I was late in actually watching The Last King of Scotland. Having not actually seen it until last week I really couldn’t discuss whether Forest Whitaker deserved his Best Acting Oscar or not. Mind you I was hoping against hope that Ryan Gosling would swoop in and take it for Half Nelson, but that’s another story. To get it out of the way, did Whitaker deserve the award? Yes, but that’s not really the main reason to watch The Last King of Scotland. While Whitaker is captivating, there is actually a film here, one that doesn’t contain just one man but a whole cast doing what they do best to bring this great story to the screen.
The Last King of Scotland actually follows young Nicolas Garrigan, played by James McAvoy. Nicolas is your typical college graduate from Scotland, having fun with his friends and trying to live up to his doctor father. Confused with the direction his life is heading, Nicolas takes out his globe and decides “wherever you land, you go.” Unfortunately for him that land is Uganda, a war-torn country just trying to return to normal after a massive government coup that has unseated the last president and replaced him with Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker). While Nicolas is not one to get involved in the politics of the country, he’s simply there to help he gets wrapped up in his fellow doctors, including one played by Gillian Andersen. After a chance meeting with the new President, Amin decides that Nicolas is a man who understands him and coerces him to become his personal physician.
Nicolas seems to be living the life, great cars, huge house, and the possibility of an illicit affair with one of Amin’s wives (Kerry Washington). But Nicolas starts to dig himself into a deep hole that he can’t get out of, one that leads him to discover Amin’s genocide of the Ugandan citizens. As Nicolas tries to escape the country, he’s also trying to escape the hold that Amin has gripped onto Nicolas.
Now, originally I didn’t really want to see this movie. As a child of the nineties, Idi Amin and the genocide in Uganda was something my mother told me about when the film came out. After the Academy Awards, and a blossoming love for James McAvoy (so sue me), I decided to check this film out and boy was I swept away. This film hits the ground running, establishing Garrigan’s life before he enters Uganda. Nicolas is a golden child so to speak, doomed to work for his father and have his life planned. Trying to escape his father’s clutches leads him straight to Amin, so to speak.
Now let’s discuss Whitaker’s performance and get it out of the way. Whitaker does do an amazing job of portraying Idi Amin. Watching this with my mother (who watched Amin’s press conferences on television), she was very surprised at how the actor truly became the dictator. Whitaker makes Idi Amin come off as a child playing cowboys and Indians, which makes him even scarier. A truly disturbing scene involves Whitaker and McAvoy’s characters. The young doctor feels he is in over his head and has asked Amin for permission to leave the country. Garrigan tells Amin, “My name is Nicolas Garrigan and I have to go home.” The scene that makes you step back is when Whitaker lifts his head, looks at McAvoy and says “This is your home.” Scenes like this show you that the man deserved his Oscar.
While Forest Whitaker is breathtakingly perfect there are other cast members. Kerry Washington is beautiful and graceful as the troubled wife Kay Amin. You can see the terror she has for Idi Amin in her eyes throughout the whole film. What Amin ultimately ends up doing with her is horrifying and probably one of the most shocking scenes in the whole movie. Praise also has to go out to rising star James McAvoy. From starting out as Mr. Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe McAvoy has really come into his own. He is the perfect sparring partner for the scenes with Whitaker, is the ideal ladies man, and has that innocent college boy personality and look to him. You never quite know what he is going to do next. Look for good things to come from this actor next.
While The Last King of Scotland will probably be remembered for quite awhile as “Forest Whitaker’s Oscar winning film” give this one a look for more than that. Watch it for the captivating story and the other performers who pour their heart and soul into this movie to make it something truly special.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.