Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Last King of Scotland

Lowdown: The story of Idi Amin’s rule of Uganda through the eyes of his Scottish physician.
Growing up in post Operation Jonathan’s Israel, Idi Amin’s was a household name. Upon asking adults about him I remember being told he used to be an ally of Israel but then did an unexpected hundred and eighty on “us”. Have no worry, though: Amin paid the price for his betrayal, or so I was told. All of which is funny to recollect when, as an adult, I read on how Amin killed 300,000 of his own people while in power; this sort of Israeli centric worldview that ignores the real issues can put most if not all of Israel’s actions and behaviors into perspective.
The Last King of Scotland attempts to shed more light on Amin’s character. Not from the Israeli point of view this time, and not even from the conventional point of view historians often take and documentaries adopt. For this 2006 release, the point of view is that of Amin’s personal doctor while in power, a character called Dr. Nicholas Garrigan. Do not ask me whether Garrigan’s character is real or fictional; even if history did have a Garrigan at Amin’s side, I doubt his story would have been accurately converted to the big screen.
We meet a young Dr Garrigan (James McAvoy) upon his graduation. Coming from a demanding family and having spent years under the pressure of demanding studies, our young doctor is in for something different. He volunteers to help in Uganda, where his womanizing almost allows him to avoid digesting the hardships around. When Amin (Forest Whitaker) comes to power and the two bump, a strange relationship develops. Garrigan falls for the seemingly charming ruler, and against the call of everyone else and despite Amin’s obvious eccentricities believes this figure really does intend to make the world better. Amin, on his side, likes a yes man fanboy by his side, especially if he’s Scottish and lacks local ties; he helps the doctor remain loyal by spoiling him. However, us viewers know our history, so the question turns into how long this relationship can survive.
The Last King of Scotland is very well made, directed as it is by Kevin Macdonald (he did the equally slick State of Play). The acting by the two leads in particular helps deliver the historical message as well as the human story, but as far as I was concerned I could not stop thinking of the Israeli centric worldview I grew up on. You have to hand it to the Palestinians, they sure know how to pick the right allies to promote their cause with the public.
Put it all together and one can justifiably argue The Last King of Scotland is one of the better history lessons around.
Best scene: The doctor gives the dictator some hell of a first impression when they first meet by using Amin’s own pistol to kill a suffering cow. Then again, could Amin really be so stupid as to leave his pistol lying around for anyone to use? Obviously, either he or the scriptwriter failed their soldiering 101 course.
Technical assessment: We watched The Last King of Scotland off the air on One HD. I have to hand it to Channel 10: theirs are the closest to Blu-ray quality transmissions in Australia, far surpassing DVD quality.
Overall: A solid 3.5 out of 5 stars film.

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