||topic: `Last King of Scotland'
on September 28, 2006 - 10:51 PM PDT
|Life, unlike bad movies, is seldom obvious. In life, murderous
dictators don't appear - especially at first - as mustache-twirling
Snidley Whiplash figures, cackling madly (although Mussolini came
close). The scary truth about monsters is that they are
three-dimensional beings, not cardboard cutouts, who just kill a lot of
people, but otherwise put their pants on one leg at a time, like you
and I, and that makes them so much scarier than if they came from
In the best film of the "dictator genre," Oliver Hirschbiegel's
brilliant "Downfall," Hitler appears as a man who is kind to his dog
and his secretary (roughly in that order), and the impact of the work
is all the greater as we witness what a "real person" is capable of
doing. In Luis Puenzo's "The Official Story," Pinochet's reign of
terror is depicted through a single act of violence, as a door is
slammed on Norma Aleandro's hand; the effect is stunning and "real."
In the hands of a less talented director, the story of Idi Amin would be
told against mountains of skulls and bones left behind by Uganda's mad
ruler in the 1970s. (His total toll is estimated at 300,000.) In Kevin
Macdonald's complex, intelligent, gripping "The Last King of Scotland,"
more than half of the two-hour film subtly implies, hints at the dark
forces underneath normalcy while "life goes on."
And so, having established real contact with the audience, a jolly and seductive
Forest Whitaker then takes our breath away as the mask comes off, and
his Amin reaches out from the screen for your throat.
Macdonald - whose previous works are documentaries, including the
Oscar-winning "One Day in September," about the Munich Olympics
terrorist incident - looks at Amin through the eyes of a young Scottish
doctor (James McAvoy), a well-meaning, honest humanitarian slowly
seduced by the Scots-loving Amin, who appoints him his personal doctor
and then adviser.
The McAvoy character is fictional (although Amin did have a Scottish
doctor), coming from Giles Foden's novel of the same name, but just
about everything else in the film is based on fact - so much so that
some documentary footage is smoothly integrated into the film. And yet,
what's important and outstanding about "Last King" is that just as a
painting can surpass a photograph in presenting reality, this film
conveys the seduction and horror of a brutal dictatorship indirectly,
Unexpected - and welcome - are the many flashes of humor, both Whitaker
(dictator with personality) and McAvoy (eager pup of a doctor with
overactive hormones) making the best of it. The tone is set in the
opening sequence, as the frustrated, suppressed young Dr. Garrigan
spins a small globe, swearing repeatedly that he will move to the first
spot ("the first!") where he points when the globe stops. The first
spot turns out to be Canada. McAvoy/Garrigan takes one look,
hesitates... and spins again. And so to Uganda...
The linear, freely-flowing story-telling is masterful, taking us from
the small village where Dr. Garrigan comes to do good and ends up doing
well through a chance meeting with Amin, to Kampala, much court
intrigue and colorful depravity (even as the fate of a nation is at
stake), and eventually to Entebbe.
Fun and games, authentic scenery (the film was shot in Uganda),
subtlety, psychology, a heart-pounding scene at Entebbe (after the
hijacking, but before the Israeli rescue), nudity, sex, violence,
harrowing questions about "what would you do," and all - "Last King" is
a wonderful compendium of facts and greater truths. Also, a hell of a