The Last King of Scotland (R)

Drama 123 January 19, 2007
By Ella Taylor
An adequate thriller redeemed by Forest Whitaker's sensational turn as Idi Amin, this novice venture into narrative features by documentary filmmaker Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, One Day in September) stars James McAvoy as a callow young Scot who becomes the dictator's personal physician and close adviser, and lives to rue the day. Based on the 1998 novel by Giles Foden, the movie feels awkwardly derivative of Under Fire, Salvador, and other superior thrillers of Westerners entangled in the legacy of imperialism. But McAvoy's deftly drawn doctor makes a compelling stand-in for the Ugly American growing an 11th-hour conscience, and the actor gracefully cedes the limelight to Whitaker, whose cunningly chameleonic performance humanizes Amin without excusing his manipulative seductions or his appalling brutality. Prankish, entranced by a good fart, witty, and politically savvy, Whitaker's Amin is a high roller overcompensating for a dirt-poor childhood, an astute manipulator of the West who hijacks a Palestinian plane hijacking for his own political purposes, and finally, a madman whose careening paranoia undoes his country and himself.
Kevin Macdonald Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Gillian Anderson, David Oyelowo, Kerry Washington Peter Morgan, Jeremy Brock, Giles Foden Andrea Calderwood, Lisa Bryer, Charles Steel Fox Searchlight