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"The Last King of Scotland"

Directed by Kevin Macdonald.
Written by Jeremy Brock, Giles Foden, Peter Morgan and Joe Penhall.
Starring James McAvoy, Forest Whitaker, Kerry Washington and Gillian Anderson.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  10/19/06

Folks--

Based on the real-life dictator Idi Amin, "The Last King of Scotland" is a great film when it follows Amin.  Set in Uganda sometime around 1970, the film follows the start of the rule of Amin, who over the course of his dictatorship left with more than 300,000 bodies on his record as a result of mass genocide and was the larger-than-life character that makes for great cinema.  So, as such, Forest Whitaker--sifting through Oscar buzz, rightfully so--is all over the part of Amin and his mix of very likeable charm and very evil methods make the character eminently watchable.

But the film is actually about a Scottish doctor named Nick Garrigan (James McAvoy), who decides after graduating from his medical program to spin a globe in the family house and puts his finger on the first place it lands...Uganda!  He makes the trip, meets new friends, and finds work at a desolate mission where he works with the wife of another white doctor in Uganda (the wife is played by Gillian Anderson, of "X-Files" fame).  One day while working at the mission, he is called upon to splint the wrist of one Idi Amin, and from there, Amin hires Garrigan as his personal doctor, where Garrigan watches first-hand the insane amount of shit that Amin is into.

Because the doctor character is made up and the doctor's backstory and focus aren't that interesting (just why the hell is he still here?  What is his motivation to continue working with a mass murderer?  Did his upbringing possibly lead him down this path?), "The Last King of Scotland" struggled for me whenever Whitaker is not on the screen.  It's not that the performances of the other actors here, including Kerry Washington as one of Amin's four wives, are that bad...it's just that we should be focusing on the film's tentpole, the dictator.

Director Kevin Macdonald (he did the awesome "Touching the Void", which you should rent stat) gives us a good-looking, well-paced, at-times-shocking film; whoa, a couple of people really get it by the time this thing is over, which only skimmed the surface of what kind of a monster Amin was.  The film stirred thoughts in me about anyone that had to suffer through living in a part-time civil war zone during any stretch of time; wow, I just can't imagine.  This helps make "The Last King of Scotland" a pretty intense experience, but one that ultimately was unfulfilled because of the shortage of the Whitaker scenes.  Certainly, Whitaker's performance should be a hot topic come awards season.

Rating:  Matinee

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09