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The Last King of Scotland
a review by Tom Condon, OP (St. Martin)

At the beginning of The Last King of Scotland, we see a young Scotsman, Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), just graduating from medical school.  Wanting to do more than work as a family doctor in his home town, Nicholas decides to travel to far away Uganda to use his medical skills.   Soon after his arrival, Nicholas meets the new ruler of the country, Idi Amin.  Nicholas helps Amin by giving him medical attention after a minor accident.  Amin is so impressed, that he asks Nicholas to become his personal physician.  At first Nicholas declines.  However, Amin promises Nicholas that, as his personal physician, he will also be able to help develop a national health system.  Nicholas accepts the offer, and soon leaves his mission and moves to the presidential palace, where he is rewarded with a new Mercedes Benz.

The main plot of The Last King of Scotland is the seduction of Nicholas by the charismatic Amin. (Note:  The relationship between Nicholas and Amin is based on a true story.)  At first, the young man from a small town in Scotland enjoys being at the center of power, and having Amin’s ear.  Amin admires the Scots for their history of standing up to the English.  This is another reason why he loves having Nicholas with him.  When he begins to realize what is really happening in Uganda, it becomes nearly impossible for Nicholas to disengage from it all. 

The Last King of Scotland is far from a great film.  In the first place, we know the horrific story of Amin, and so are not shocked by this turn of events.  Nicholas also seems incredibly naïve.  Yet, the story serves as a reminder of the seductive nature of power and influence.  As easy as it is to criticize Nicholas for falling into this trap, we recognize its allure.

The real reason to see Last King is Forest Whitaker’s performance as Idi Amin.  Whitaker’s performance won an Oscar, Golden Globe, and many other awards this year.  Whitaker beautifully captures the “larger than life” quality of Amin.  With his boisterous laugh and charismatic personality, he was able to charm the people and the media, at least for a while.  At the same time, Whitaker portrays the dangerous side to his paranoid personality, which can turn from laughter to rage in an instant.  Amin could trust no one, and easily killed anyone he saw as a threat to himself.  When Whitaker is onscreen, you can’t take your eyes off him.  This great performance is reason enough to see The Last King of Scotland.

Tom Condon, OP

    The film contains intense scenes of violence, including a graphic depiction of torture, brief grisly images of massacre and dismemberment, several sexual encounters with nudity, an abortion subplot, recurring rough and crude language and profanity. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.




((...the story serves as a reminder of the seductive nature of power and influence. ))

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