Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Gillian Anderson, Simon McBurney, David Oyelowo, Abby Mukiibi Nkaaga, Adam Kotz
Jeremy Brock, Giles Foden (novel), Peter Morgan
Charming. Magnetic. Murderous.
In the early 1970s, Nicholas Garrigan, a young semi-idealistic Scottish doctor, comes to Uganda to assist in a rural hospital. Once there, he soon meets up with the new President, Idi Amin, who promise a golden age for the African nation. Garrigan hits it off immediately with the rabid Scotland fan, who soon offers him a senior position in the national health department and becomes one of Amin's closest advisers. However as the years pass, Garrigan cannot help but notice Amin's increasingly erratic behavior that grows beyond a legitimate fear of assassination into a murderous insanity that is driving Uganda into bloody ruin. Realizing his dire situation with the lunatic leader unwilling to let him go home, Garrigan must make some crucial decisions that could mean his death if the despot finds out.
$142.899 thousand on 4 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
Runtime: 123 min.
Release Date: 4/17/2007
• Audio Commentary with Director Kevin MacDonald
• Deleted Scenes
• “Capturing Idi Amin” Featurette
• “Forest Whitaker – Idi Amin” Featurette
• “Fox Movie Channels Presents: Casting Session - The Last King of Scotland”
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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
The Last King Of Scotland (2006)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 21, 2007)
Perhaps we should take it as a sign of progress that I recall absolutely no discussion of race related to Forest Whitaker’s Best Actor victory for 2006’s The Last King of Scotland. I guess the 2002 ceremony in which Denzel Washington and Halle Berry won Best Actor and Best Actress respectively rendered all further consideration of the issue as moot. That year boasted actors of African-American descent who took home both of the prime prizes, so for another black performer to win no longer seems special.
Indeed, Whitaker’s prize comes just two years after Jamie Foxx’s victory for 2004’s Ray, so that means African-American actors have won three of the last five awards. In another trend, the last three Best Actor awards have gone to performers who played real people: Ray Charles, Truman Capote, and Idi Amin. Before that, we have to go back to 1996 for Geoffrey Rush’s role in Shine to find another victory for an actor as a real person. In an unusual twist, both Best Actor and Best Actress went to performers as real folks for 2006 and 2005; before that, we’d not gotten such a pairing since the awards for 1980.
One thing that makes King unusual: Whitaker plays a real person in a fictional story. King starts in Scotland circa 1970. We meet Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a recently minted physician. Also a doctor, his dad (David Ashton) expects they’ll practice together, but Nicholas feels the irresistible urge to go somewhere more adventuresome.
This lands him in Uganda during a military coup. General Idi Amin (Whitaker) leads this uprising and takes over control of the nation. Nicholas works alongside Dr. David Merrit (Adam Kotz) and his wife Sarah (Gillian Anderson) as they attempt to maintain the health and education of the locals.
When Amin suffers a minor injury during a visit to the area, Nicholas tends to his wounds and makes a positive impression due to the leader’s love of all things Scottish. Amin soon sends for Nicholas and takes him onboard as his personal physician. At first Nicholas enjoys his new life, and he also thinks he can make a positive difference via Amin’s modernization of the Ugandan health care situation.
However, the leader’s ebullient and jovial personality can’t hide his darker side. Amin works to suppress all enemies, both real and imagined. These tendencies disturb Nicholas, who finds himself troubled by Amin’s path and his place in the administration. The movie follows these threads as well as personal relationships along the way.
At the start of my review, I mentioned how it looks like Oscar has become colorblind. However, it doesn’t appear that such a tone has quite filtered down to the filmmakers themselves. In the past, flicks like Cry Freedom have earned complaints because they forced us to view African events through the eyes of white characters. I’d like to think that matters have progressed over the last two decades and that would no longer be the chosen path, but King demonstrates otherwise.
On one hand, I suppose the decision to access Amin’s story via the experiences of Nicholas at least ensures we won’t get stuck with a standard, banal biopic of Amin. However, that choice brings in problems of its own. Indeed, those concerns became severe enough that I ultimately wished King had offered a simple biopic of Amin – simple, banal or otherwise.
Did Whitaker deserve the Best Actor Oscar for his work as Amin? No, but don’t take that as a criticism of the performer. He indeed offers a full take on the leader. Whitaker manages to depict all sides of the general in a rich manner, as he takes a somewhat cartoony character and renders him well.
However, I don’t think we can credit him as “Best Actor” due to the movie’s structure. Amin plays a surprisingly small role in the proceedings. Sure, his presence and actions rule over all we survey, but Amin himself doesn’t show up in that many scenes. Nicholas is the true lead, while Amin is a supporting character.
And that’s one area where I find myself frustrated with King. If I go to see a movie about Idi Amin, I want to see Idi Amin, not some pasty Scottish do-gooder. The emphasis on Nicholas seems pointless, as it distracts from our take on Amin.
Sure, one can argue that we still get a good view of the leader’s highs and lows, but I don’t think the material exploits the circumstances as well as it should. The tale becomes more about Nicholas’s life and adventures and less about Amin and his country. The film uses the suffering of the Ugandans merely as incidental backdrop for the drama that effects Nicholas.
To a great degree, King works less as a depiction of the realities of life under Amin and more as a standard thriller. Despite Whitaker’s efforts to make the role three-dimensional, the script renders Amin as a standard movie monster, and much of the second half follows Nicholas’s attempts to escape his scary clutches. You could substitute Amin with any number of psycho killers/stalkers and the effect would remain the same.
So the only twist we get in King stems from the use of real historical characters, and that’s not nearly enough to allow it to breath. I think a serious look at Amin’s regime would be an interesting, potentially fascinating tale. What makes this madman tick?
Unfortunately, we never get that in King. Rather than present a rich look at the horrible nature of his regime, we get a cartoon monster movie. This turns the film into an enormous disappointment.
The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B+/ Bonus B
The Last King of Scotland appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A few ups and downs came along the way, but the transfer usually satisfied.
Colors stood as a strong point. The movie embraced a warm, rich palette typical of flicks set in Africa, and it depicted those hues well. The tones seemed vivid and dynamic. Blacks were full and dense, and low-light shots came across with good clarity and definition.
Sharpness was usually good, though some exceptions occurred. At times the movie looked a bit soft, and some blocky shots also popped up along the way. Nonetheless, most of the flick was concise and accurate. No jagged edges or shimmering manifested themselves, but I witnessed occasional examples of edge haloes. Other than a little grain at times, the movie lacked source flaws. The end result earned a “B” for visuals.
No notable flaws manifested themselves during the solid Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. I can’t say I expected much from the soundfield, but it opened up the material well. Scenes with military elements fared the best. These involved the viewer in a lively manner, as the various elements created a good setting. Music showed fine stereo presence, and general atmosphere was very nice. The movie offered a clear three-dimensional presence.
Audio quality consistently seemed very good. Speech was warm and natural, with no edginess or other flaws. Music sounded quite vivid and dynamic, as the score and songs presented excellent response. Effects also appeared accurate and full. Bass response brought out good depth when necessary. Overall, I found myself very pleased by this soundtrack.
When it comes to extras, we start with an audio commentary from director Kevin MacDonald. He offers a running, screen-specific chat. MacDonald discusses how he came onto the project, cast and performances, sets, locations and issues connected to shooting in Uganda, music, costumes and period details, and other production notes.
MacDonald provides a consistently engaging commentary. He gives us a nice glimpse of what became involved in the shoot and throws out more than enough details to illuminate his topics. Only a little happy talk comes along the way, so this ends up as a useful chat.
Seven Deleted Scenes last a total of 11 minutes, 43 seconds. We find “Uganda, 1948” (1:44), “The Mission” (0:27), “Good Times (Alternate)” (1:35), “Idi’s Test/Nicholas’ Suit” (1:25), “The Same Woman” (1:03), “The Press Conference (Alternate)” (4:12), “Stone Leaves/Nicholas Prepares” (1:14). “1948” proves moderately interesting as it shows a young Amin, though we simply see him box, so this isn’t particularly revealing. “Conference” doesn’t stand as all that different than the final segment other than the fact it shows the scene in its entirety without cutaways. The remaining segments offer minor character bits without anything substantial. None of the clips seems memorable.
We can watch these with or without commentary from MacDonald. He gives us basic notes about the scenes and lets us know why he cut them. The remarks provide acceptable details about the excised segments.
A featurette called Capturing Idi Amin runs for 29 minutes, two seconds. It mixes movie clips, behind the scenes shots, archival elements and interviews. We hear from MacDonald, Ugandan Deputy Prime Minister/Amin’s finance minister Moses Ali, youth coordinator Chris Rugaba, journalist Jon Snow, author Giles Foden, producers Andrea Calderwood and Lisa Bryer, Amin’s former commander Major Iain Grahame, Amin’s education minister Abu Mayanja, Amin’s physician Dr. David Barkham, extras Joshua and Florence Mabonga-Mwisaka, Amin’s health minister Henry Kyemba, and actors Forest Whitaker, Stephen Rwangyezi, Kerry Washington, Abbey Mukiibi, Michael Wuwayo and James McAvoy. “Capturing” looks at the view of Amin in present-day Uganda, thoughts about the man and his regime, and elements of shooting the film there. We learn about the novel and its adaptation, depicting fact and fiction, and a few other elements of the production.
“Capturing” stands as a somewhat awkward mix of history and “making of” featurette. The best parts come when the show focuses on the former. After the fictionalized movie, it’s good to get a stronger view of the real Amin. However, the mix of pieces connected to the film undermines the concentration on history. These result in an interesting but frustrating show that can’t quite establish its focus.
Next comes Forest Whitaker – “Idi Amin”, a five-minute and 59-second piece. It features Whitaker and McAvoy. They offer general reflections on the story, the characters, and the movie. This acts as a pretty broad promotional clip in which movie clips dominate.
In addition to the movie’s trailer, we get Fox Movie Channel Presents: Casting Session - The Last King of Scotland. In this eight-minute and 36-second program, we find notes from MacDonald, Calderwood, Whitaker, and casting director Jina Jay. We get notes on how MacDonald wound up as director, casting Whitaker, and his performance. Another show with promotion as its emphasis, “Casting” nonetheless offers enough good notes and insights to make it worthwhile.
Despite an Oscar-winning turn from Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland presents a deeply flawed flick. The tale fails to provide a rich examination of its subject and turns into little more than a cheap, predictable thriller. The DVD offers erratic but generally positive picture with very good audio and a mostly useful mix of extras. Although I can’t complain about the DVD, I find the movie to be a disappointment.
Viewer Film Ratings: 3.625 Stars|| Number of Votes: 16|