If you're planning to spend some time in a far flung country anytime soon here's a warning: Don't buddy up with any mad dictators. That's the mistake Scottish med school grad Nicholas Garrigan (The Chronicles of Narnia's James McAvoy) makes in The Last King of Scotland.
Garrigan travels to Uganda in the 1970s to get away from his overbearing father and experience life on his own. At first the trip seems perfect: He uses his medical skills for good, lives reasonably well and strikes up a flirtation with a pretty, but married, colleague (The X-Files' Gillian Anderson, in an unfortunately brief role). But Garrigan's arrival coincides with the rise in power of Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), who claims he'll do right by his people. Yeah, right.
A chance meeting between Garrigan and Amin leads to an unexpected friendship. Turns out Amin has a fondness for Scots (the movie's title comes from a reference Amin makes about himself) and decides the young doctor should be his personal physician. The perks that come with being so close to the leader of a nation are hard for Garrigan to resist, but Amin has a dark side, and when Garrigan finds himself attracted to one of the leader's wives (Ray's Kerry Washington), it's clear things won't end happily.
Documentarian Kevin Macdonald makes his narrative film debut with a great deal of style and an eye for telling details. The film's beautifully scorched, shaky camerawork is one of its best assets. But the main attraction is Whitaker's forceful, nimble performance: He's equal parts gregarious teddy bar and psychotic monster.
Scotland loses its way toward the end as it morphs from a specific portrait of a time and place into a conventional thriller that races toward a finish that fails to make a strong impact. But the film still engages, especially when Whitaker takes center stage.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times