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DVD Pick: The Last King of Scotland

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The Last King of Scotland DVD Cover Art

The Last King of Scotland DVD Cover Art

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Fine Acting, Interesting Locations and Important Subject Matter

Forest Whitaker received the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the drama The Last King of Scotland (2006). He is unforgettable in the role of Idi Amin, the sometimes brutal, sometimes charming, always eccentric dictator of Uganda during the 1970s. Another good reason to watch the film is for the location shooting in Kampala, Uganda's photogenic capital city.

Although some of the events depicted actually occurred and Amin was a historical figure, the movie is based on the novel by Giles Foden. The central character is the fictional Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a Scotsman who goes to Uganda seeking adventure. In addition to the fine performances by McAvoy and Whitaker in the film's main roles, there is strong supporting work by Kerry Washington, Gillian Anderson and a Ugandan actor named Stephen Rwangyezi.

The Last King of Scotland is serviceable as a political thriller, although it's not all that suspenseful or exciting. While some scenes are very good indeed, the plot feels contrived, and the film has little depth and not much emotional or intellectual resonance. Nevertheless, the movie is worth seeing because of the acting, the location shooting and the importance of the subject matter.

The Callow Scotsman and the Beguiling African Dictator

Young Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) graduates medical school in Scotland and decides to go somewhere exotic in the hope of having fun and making a difference in the world. He picks Uganda at random and arrives there in 1971, just as Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker) becomes the country's new leader by way of a military coup. In a memorable scene, Garrigan treats an injury Amin sustains when the president's motor vehicle runs into a cow.

The wily Amin manipulates the naïve Scotsman into taking the post of the president's personal physician. Then the dictator gives Garrigan some minor advisory tasks, duping the foolish Scotsman into feeling he's an important part of the government. But it gradually dawns on Garrigan that he's working for a monster, and the young doctor takes a course of action that provokes the wrath of the cruel dictator. The denouement takes place in 1976 at Entebbe airport, where Palestinian terrorists have brought a hijacked airliner with about 250 passengers on board.

The Real-Life Idi Amin

The best DVD extra is the 29-minute "Capturing Idi Amin," which is about the filmmakers creating their version of the real-life historical figure. The documentary gives us the opportunity to see archival footage of Amin. He was head of state in Uganda from 1971 to 1979, presiding over a reign of terror that was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 300,000 people.

There are interviews with several people who knew Amin personally. For example, he served in the British army, and his former commander says Amin was "a very successful soldier" and "a born leader of men." We learn that Amin developed a lifelong affection for the Scots because many of the officers he served under in the King's African Rifles were from Scotland.

People who lived in Uganda during the 1970s look back at the era, and their reminisces aren't entirely negative. While they resent the brutality of Amin's regime, they also respect him for instilling feelings of hope and pride in the fledgling nation. Some of Amin's charisma is captured in archival footage that shows him leading a crowd yelling in unison, "Uganda muscle!"

A Worthwhile Director's Audio Commentary

The Last King of Scotland was the first non-documentary film directed by Kevin Macdonald, previously best known for Touching the Void (2003) and the Oscar-winning One Day in September (1999). Born in Glasgow, Macdonald is the grandson of legendary filmmaker Emeric Pressburger.

On the DVD, Macdonald provides an informative feature-length audio commentary. He supplies details about locations, how things went during the shoot, soundtrack music, and supplementary facts about Amin and his times. Macdonald says they got lots of help from the Ugandan government in making the movie, including being allowed to shoot in the beautiful parliament building. The scene where the local group sings "The Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond" was shot in the garden outside that building. The swimming pool scene was shot at the Sheraton and is based on Barbet Schroeder's 1974 documentary General Idi Amin Dada.

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