The Last King of Scotland

Idi Amin is responsible for the death of approximately 300,000 Ugandans. Considered to be one of the truly terrible dictators of recent years, I echo the sentiments expressed by many that I've heard lately: it's hard to believe he only died three years ago (exiles in Saudi Arabia).
How do you get close to a figure like this, even in a film? The Last King of Scotland is based on a novel by Giles Foden that uses a Westerner to help us gain access to this world. Nicholas Garrigan is a young Scottish doctor in the early 1970s who, terrified at the idea of working in a family practice alongside his father for the rest of his days, spins a globe and decides to go to the first place his finger lands. At first spin, it's Canada... on his second try, he lands on Uganda... and so he goes.
Wide-eyed and enthusiastic, all Garrigan seems to radiate is delight at his adventure in Africa. He starts working at a clinic where he's more interested in seducing Sarah (Gillian Anderson), the wife of the head doctor at the clinic than saving lives - or at least that's what we see. He's clearly involved with the people there, playing soccer and interested in going to a rally where the new "boss" will be speaking - Idi Amin. He convinces Sarah to come with him and Garrigan cheers along with the people as Aidi Amin promises reform, peace, food... On their way home, their jeep is overtaken by soldiers who need a doctor for Idi Amin, who has been in a minor car accident. Garrigan proves his mettle by overstepping his bounds... the noise of a fatally injured animal and the people arguing means he cannot concentrate on fixing Idi Amin's hand, so he takes a gun and shoots the animal.
The next day, Idi Amin invites Garrigan to his capital and asks him to be his personal physician. Lured from the clinic by parties, women, and the respect of such a powerful man, Garrigan quickly falls into a world where he's way over his head.
Now I know that I've put my money on Forest Whitaker winning the Oscar for Best Actor this year (he won the Golden Globe and it really is an impressive performance, though really, of those nominated, I would otherwise go with Leo), but I want to pause for a moment to praise James McAvoy. Yes, he's adorable and the Scottish accent is delicious, but for the entire movie, I was utterly astounded by McAvoy. He delivers a really great performance, which seems to come out of the blue after all the hype about Forest Whitaker. Aside from the fact that I think that he's a great young actor, I think my amazement has more to do with the fact that his great acting was a constant reaction to Whitaker. Whitaker is a powerhouse, he inhabits the role, you aren't even aware that acting is going on... and McAvoy/Garrigan is swept along, desperately trying to stay ahead of Whitaker/Idi Amin. Garrigan makes some stupid choices (I mean come on, there have to be *some* single women in Uganda, kid!) and has no idea what he's dealing with -- a fact that Idi Amin calls him on towards the end of the movie... and it hits hard because really, very few Westerners have any idea of what they're dealing with when they try to "help out" in Africa.
Overall, it was a very powerful movie with a very convincing portrayal of a true monster.

Here's the link to the NY Times review.

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