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|The Last King of Scotland|
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Kevin Macdonald|
scr Peter Morgan, Jeremy Brock
with James McAvoy, Forest Whitaker, Kerry Washington, Gillian Anderson, Simon McBurney, David Oyelowo, Stephen Rwangyezi, Abby Mikiibi, Adam Kotz, Sam Okello, Barbara Rafferty, David Ashton
release US 27.Sep.06,
06/UK Fox 2h03
Shake hands with the devil: Whitaker, Anderson and McAvoy
Starting as a lively adventure, this film slowly twists into a haunting and unforgettable thriller, using real life events to tell a devastatingly powerful story.
After finishing medical school in Scotland, Nicholas (McAvoy) decides to see the world, settling at random on Uganda. Arriving during the 1971 coup, he works in a remote clinic with a husband-wife team (Kotz and Anderson). One day the charismatic new President Idi Amin (Whitaker) rolls in and takes a liking to Nicholas, offering him a job as his private physician. Soon Nicholas is one of the mercurial Amin's closest advisors, getting a bit too close to one of his wives (Washington) and starting to worry that he might be out of his depth.
The title refers to one of Amin's self-proclaimed titles (another was Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea). And the film boldly shows him as engaging and magnetic--a man who loved to have fun, but who was also fiercely paranoid and ruthlessly violent. It's a strikingly rounded portrayal of one of Africa's most notorious villains, and Whitaker gets it note-perfect: a bundle of energy that quickly shifts from likeable lightness to pitch black.
We see the story through Nicholas' eyes, and McAvoy is excellent. There's a real a spark of chemistry between the two men. As Nicholas' joyful naiveté gives way to dawning horror over five years, we are sucked into events with him. This is a disarming performance that makes the film's final act a deeply harrowing experience. We emerge from the cinema profoundly shaken, and with a clear understanding of the story's relevance in the world right now.
For his first narrative feature, Macdonald (Touching the Void) makes the most of his exceptional crew (including brilliant cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle). Macdonald's documentary experience shows in the realistic tone and nimble pace, plus an excellent use of actual locations in Uganda. He keeps the story intimate and personal, which makes it all the more affecting. This is a story about respect, honesty and waking up from self-delusion. And as it tightens its grip, it shakes us to the core.
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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