"Knight Thoughts" -- exclusive web content
Forest Whitaker triumphs in the role of a lifetime as crazed despot Idi Amin in a cautionary tale of innocence vs. power
The Last King of Scotland
10-06-06 "Knight Thoughts" web exclusive
By Richard Knight, Jr.
Forest Whitaker is so good as the late despot dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland that it’s easy to overlook the work
of James McAvoy as the object of his childish enthusiasm and later derision. That McAvoy, as Dr. Nicholas Garrigan, a rube
Scotsman, just out of medical school who travels to Uganda on a whim in 1971 to escape an overbearing father, holds his own with
Whitaker in a role that’s not nearly as interesting, is a large compliment. Inspired by real events, the movie traces Garrigian’s
accidental first encounter with Amin, his quite rise to eminence when Amin improbably makes him his personal physician, and the
eventual terror that overtakes Garrigan and everyone around Amin as his quest to hang on to his power overwhelms everything
around him. This is the first non documentary feature for director Kevin Macdonald (whose One Day In September won the Oscar in
2000). It’s a riveting cautionary tale of innocence and bravado vs. the paranoic effect of power.
The critical hosannas for the movie are going to go to Whitaker (he’s already made the pilgrimage to Oprah, in true Jamie Foxx Ray
fashion, first stop on the way to the Oscar ceremony). And they are deserved. The role of the crazed crackpot who alternates
between childlike enthusiasm, blistering verbal attacks on his enemies, and back to joking in the flash of a second is perfect for the
rather odd talents of Whitaker (a gentle giant who looms over McAvoy and everyone else on screen). As the movie progresses and
the trappings of the good life quickly seduce the young, impressionable and dangerously naïve Dr. Garrigan, the tension increases
each time McAvoy (who was memorable last year as the faun Mr. Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia) does something that we know is
in the end going to really piss off the crazy like a fox Whitaker. When will this nut job who, depending on his mood, refers to
Garrigan as his “most trusted adviser,” “personal physician” or “nothing” blow his top and take out the young innocent or do
something so dreadful that the innocence will be taken away?
McAvoy’s Garrigan has his inevitable awakening, of course, and the movie proceeds to its conclusion. Perhaps the greatest strength
of this audacious story, however, is its ability to pique the curiosity. One leaves the movie wanting to know more the charming,
violent Amin (I recommend Barbet Schroeder’s 1975 portrait that was filmed with Amin’s cooperation) and touting Whitaker’s
performance. There is also nice support from Gillian Anderson and Simon McBurney.