Film review: Whitaker larger than life as Amin in 'Last King'

Published: Friday, Feb. 2 2007 12:04 a.m. MST

Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland."

Film Four And Dna Films Limited

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THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND — *** — James McAvoy, Forest Whitaker, Kerry Washington; rated R (violence, profanity, gore, drugs, sex, nudity, vulgarity, torture).

In real life, Idi Amin was a larger-than-life figure, so its appropriate that Forest Whitaker's take on the Ugandan dictator in "The Last King of Scotland" is also larger than life.

In fact, Whitaker's riveting and deserved Oscar-nominated performance pretty much dominates — almost to the point of overpowering — this fictionalized drama, based on Giles Foden's novel.

However, that might be for the best, as the film's other characters are less interesting. That's especially true of Nicholas Garrigan, played by James McAvoy (from "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe").

A "composite character," Nicholas is a recent medical-school graduate from Scotland who volunteers to work in a clinic in Uganda. He's supposed to be helping impoverished patients but instead comes face-to-face with Amin, a Ugandan army officer who has risen through the ranks and now leads the country.

Nicholas winds up treating Amin's wounds, so now the grateful dictator wants the inexperienced doctor to become his personal physician, as well as an adviser.

Director Kevin Macdonald (the 2003 docudrama "Touching the Void") has captured the look and feel of the 1970s time period by incorporating newsreel footage. But he's stuck with a rather unlikable lead in McAvoy's Nicholas, though that has more to do with the way the character was written than the performance.

And the film appears to be more sympathetic toward the controversial Amin — at least until some of his more monstrous tendencies are exposed. (The film's title refers to Amin and his affinity for Scotland and Scottish culture.)

"The Last King of Scotland" is rated R for strong and sometimes disturbing, violent imagery (mostly shootings, as well as explosive mayhem), strong sexual language (profanity and crude sex talk), some graphic gore, drug content (pharmaceuticals and recreational drugs), simulated sex and other sexual contact, male and female nudity, and a scene of torture and interrogation. Running time: 123 minutes.


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