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REEL CRITIC:Talented cast in horrific tale of Uganda

The boogeyman of the 1970s, Idi Amin Dada, arrives on screen, and in full bellow in “The Last King of Scotland.” As portrayed by Forest Whitaker, Idi Amin Dada, the Ugandan Kingpin, is a fiercely intelligent, manically paranoid, highly charismatic self-described man of the people.

Though enormously entertaining, this movie about the unusual friendship between Amin and Dr. Nicholas Garrigan is a journey straight into the heart of darkness.

Based on the novel of the same name, “The Last King of Scotland,” directed by Kevin MacDonald, is about Amin’s bloody rule as told from the point of view of a young Scottish doctor named Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy).

Inspired by real events, “The Last King Of Scotland” opens, naturally enough, in Scotland where Garrigan has just completed university. Rather than follow his father into family practice, Nicholas wants a little adventure first. With the spin of a globe, he decides on Uganda. Garrigan arrives in the country to work in a small rural clinic as Amin has taken over power through a coup.

One day Garrigan is called to the scene of a rather surreal accident involving a car and a water buffalo to administer to the injured Amin. At the scene the pair bond over a shared love of Scotland.

Amin even goes so far as to trade his uniform shirt, medals and all, for Garrigan’s Scotland soccer jersey. Garrigan is quickly drafted into becoming Amin’s personal physician. Thus, Amin and Garrigan’s odd friendship becomes the core of what can best be described as an anti-bio-pic.

Filmed on location in Uganda and Scotland, “The Last King of Scotland” is a movie so representative of its era that it looks as if it was actually made in the 1970s. The movie’s saturated color and snap zooms are evocative of the best films of the 1970s. Like that era’s best films, this is a movie that cannot be categorized easily. It is funny, heart-wrenching, horrific and paranoid, all to the beat of an earth-shaking, booty-quaking Afro-pop soundtrack.

As Idi Amin Dada, the charismatic, man-child-monster, Whitaker devours every scene he is in. He is the warlord as prankster; a man with an appetite, equally, for both laughter and destruction.

Like Dr. Garrigan, you can’t help but like Amin, even as you suspect the many dark and nefarious machinations occurring at Amin’s bidding in Uganda. The dead-eyed security men that surround Amin leave little doubt that he is not on the side of the angels. Still, amusing or frightening, you can’t get enough of Whitaker’s riveting performance as the deranged demigod.

“The Last King of Scotland” is the flip side to the tragic “Hotel Rwanda.”

The heroes here, thanks to Amin’s gargantuan ambition and paranoia, quickly disappear. It is to the credit of this movie’s very talented cast that Amin’s crimes are presented as all too believable. It is also to their credit that Amin himself comes across as all too human; a revelation for all of us to shake our heads over.


  • BOB HARRIS has been hooked on movies since he was 13 when his brother got a job in a multi-plex and Bob saw all the movies he wanted for free.

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