The Last King of Scotland reigns supreme

By Gus Bode

“The Last King of Scotland”

Directed by Kevin Macdonald

Starring Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Gillian Anderson


Rated R

Run time 121 minutes

At this point, it almost goes without saying that Forest Whitaker’s portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in James McAvoy’s “The Last King of Scotland” is the biggest and best reason to see the otherwise prosaic film.

In the end, “The Last King of Scotland” is a decent film filled with wonderful performances. While the rest of the world has been well aware of this fact for weeks, the film has only made its way to Carbondale in the last few days.

“The Last King of Scotland,” based on the realistic-fiction novel of the same name by Giles Foden, tells a truth-based but fictitious tale of the inner circle of brutal and reviled dictator Amin. Nicholas Gorrigan (James McAvoy) is an idealistic but vain Scottish doctor who moves to war-torn Uganda to escape his overbearing father and “make a difference.” When Amin is in a car accident, Gorrigan treats him and becomes the dictator’s personal physician and confidant in the process.

Gorrigan then becomes privy to Amin’s opulent lifestyle and growing paranoia in a country in upheaval. In the process, Macdonald, whose other films include the documentaries “Touching the Void” and “One Day in September,” provides a series of wonderful character studies in a sometimes lackluster film.

While McAvoy, Whitaker and Kerry Washington (as Amin’s third wife) all do wonderful jobs depicting the arc of their respective characters, Macdonald’s style is often heavy on unnecessary cutaways and extreme close up camera zooms. Likewise, screenwriters Peter Morgan and Giles Foden often pack unnecessary elements of intrigue and thrill into a storyline that is already wholly frightening and intriguing.


It’s also a shame that it took so long for the film to reach Carbondale. While the city isn’t near any great cultural Mecca, there’s no excuse for “Last King of Scotland” to arrive months after its release.

These gripes not withstanding, “Last King” is carried by its wonderful performances and the screen presence of Whitaker as the alternately frightening and funny Amin. Not since his portrayal of Charlie Parker in “Bird” has Whitaker been so effective or enthralling.

“Last King of Scotland” is a powerful and riveting film. Then again, you probably knew that unless you’ve been living under a rock or confined to Carbondale.