The Last King of Scotland is a superb film based on the book by Giles Foden. It tells the tale of a young Scottish doctor who goes to work in Uganda just as Idi Amin is coming to power and somehow ends up as a part of the new regime.
Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) is a newly qualified doctor clearly desperate to avoid replacing his father as a small town GP. He escapes the boredom of 1970´s Scotland by volunteering to go and work in Uganda, an adventure to a country he knows nothing about. He begins working in a medical centre in a small village and gradually gets acquainted with life in Uganda striking up a relationship with the wife of his boss, Sarah Merrit (Gillian Anderson) whom he wastes no time in trying to bed.
Everything changes for him when he is called to an emergency and arrives to find Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker) himself with an injured hand. When Amin finds out he is Scottish the two strike up an unexpected friendship and Nicholas is gradually seduced into the circle becoming first Amin´s personal physician and eventually one of his closest advisors. As Amin´s actions get more and more bizarre Nicholas heightens the tension by starting an affair with one of his wives, Kay (Kerry Washington). Events build to a thrilling climax as Amin spirals out of control and Nicholas bounces between misplaced loyalty and fear.
The film is significantly different from the book, Nicholas is made into a slightly more sympathetic character and the ending is altered, but the essence remains the same. For Foden´s original work he drew on his experience as a journalist and his twenty years living in Africa, he also says he based parts of Nicholas´s character on a real life associate of Amin.
Direction comes from Kevin Macdonald, director of the excellent documentary Touching the Void. He brings the politically unstable world of 1970´s Uganda to vivid life and does a great job of building the tension as the action veers into thriller territory. The film is well paced, features a terrific soundtrack and thoroughly entertained me for the full 121 minutes.
What really makes the film work is the acting of Forest Whitaker as he expertly brings the charismatic and frightening Amin to life. Whitaker said of Amin in an interview "He was someone who rose not just from poor but from dirt poor all the way to the top. He was often said to be unintelligent and yet he spoke ten different languages. And I think he did want to build more schools and create hospitals and fix roads - but he didn´t find the best ways to do these things. Then, as he started to fear that he was going to lose power, he became extremely paranoid and developed into a much darker figure." This understanding of the character undoubtedly added to Whitaker´s incredible performance.
James McAvoy was also very good as the arrogant young Nicholas Garrigan. He is a naive young man who learns the consequences of his actions the hard way. The supporting cast were all convincing and the author Giles Foden even made an appearance as a British journalist.
The Last King of Scotland is a disturbing thriller and it makes for uncomfortable viewing in places as it descends into nightmare territory and everything comes apart at the seams. Whitaker as Amin is frighteningly convincing and he positively emanates the threat of violence as his paranoia grows. This is a great piece of film making and enough to suggest there is more to come from all concerned.