"If you're afraid of dying it shows you have a life worth living."
The Last King of Scotland (2006) is a British historical drama, loosely based on true events. Set in the 1970s, the film follows a young Scotsman named Nicholas Garrigan who is a recent graduate of medical school. Nicholas decides that instead of following his father's footsteps as a local doctor he will to travel to Uganda and try and make a difference in the world (while seeking a little adventure at the same time). Little does Nicholas know that a new dictator named Idi Amin has recently come to power in the country, and after a chance encounter with Amin, Nicholas quickly and unexpectedly finds himself accepting a job as his personal doctor and adviser.
The story of this film is quite good. I coudn't help but think that it was a little too good to be true while it was happening (only to find it's really not true later), I guess the reason for that "breaking of believability" would be too many coincidences around one person/character. Also the story telegraphs where it's going a too easily and ends up being very easily predictable, but its still a fun ride and a very interesting story.
I felt like a majority of the characters were very one-dimentional. Amin and Nicholas being the exceptions (and even Nicholas seemed that way at times, I would guess my exception for him is more thanks to the actor than to the script), but everyone seemed like they were there for their one purpose in the story. You're supposedly basing this film on real people, make the characters feel as interesting and complex as real people.
I have a big problem with films like this that are paraded as real events or "historical" when they do something as big as making up the main character! I don't have a problem with historical fiction at all, but I think that it should be called what it is. I understand with a film like this it's hard to tell where reality stops and fiction starts but I have to say it was a big buzz kill when I looked the film up after the credits rolled. At the very least I think you shouldn't start with a title card that says "based on historical events" or finish the film with an ending coda telling what happened in the conclusion of an actual historical event (especially since it was wrong!) These are tricks that mislead the audience into believing the entire film is fact.
I really enjoyed the films direction. There were multiple scenes where I found myself going: "wow, that was amazingly executed." One in particular is the scene with the Ox where Nicholas first meets Amin, such a great use of drama and heightened tenseness achieved through cutting, acting, camera moves and sound design, the scene has a sharp climax and then relieves itself and opens the door for a great friendship. Also I like how the film starts in the rural African landscape and as Nicholas travels to the capitol it's this great moment where the character and viewer both realize how there are parts of Uganda that are actually very built up and developed (for better or worse).
The film has a really amazing soundtrack, mixing traditional African music and music from the 70s and each song seems like it's perfectly placed within the film at just the right part.
But the real reason to see this film is Forest Whitaker's portral of the paranoid Ugandan president Idi Amin. He's amazing in the role, first making you think (along side Nicholas) that this guy is the greatest leader ever and then as the film goes on and his paranoia increases he achieves very, very high levels of suspense and fright that will keep you on the edge of your seat. He won much acclaim and awards for this role, and I think it's very well deserved. The film just woudn't have worked without such a convincing portrayal of this very interesting man.
The Last King of Scotland (2012) is a very well executed and acted historical drama, with a story so good that it will suck you in. Just try not to be disappointing when you find out later that the story is in fact too good to be true. 4.5/5 stars.
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