Friday, 22 June 2007

And the oscar went to...

I finally buckled and decided to rent The Last King of Scotland. I've been undecided - lured by Oscar glory, repelled by what I knew would be a pretty uncomfortable film. I wasn't wrong.

Set in the 70s, at the start of Idi Amin's terror fuelled rule of Uganda, the film follows newly qualified doctor Nicholas Garragan as he decides escape Scotland and his parent's and head for Africa. Naive and cocky in equal measure, Nicholas is a randy bugger, he's barely settled into his new Ugandan mission and he's after the boss's wife. Expertly played by Gillian Anderson, with a top notch English accent and blonde locks, Sarah is a sensible type who's pain and confusion over her feelings for Nicholas foreshadow the nightmare to come.

It's out of the frying pan...for Nicholas when a chance meeting with Amin takes him from the gritty outback to the luxury of the despot's HQ in Kampala. Amin switches on the charm, wooing Nicholas with ease and the young doctor soon finds himself physician to one of the world's most brutal men. Treated as some kind of curio or pet for Amin's entertainment, by the time the spell wears off, Nicholas is in deep. When Uganda's martial law and mass disappearances finally get through to the young Scot, he's been buttered up with a lavish lifestyle and is once again involved with the boss's wife...

Overall the acting is first rate and the protagonists are superb. McAvoy's Nicholas is giddy and self absorbed under Amin's thumb but when the screws start to turn the man comes around and you're rooting for his survival. Whitaker's potrayal of Amin is nothing short of mesmerising, a well desrved Oscar for that man. You know things are going to turn ugly from the outset but can't help being sucked in by Amin as he mixes commanding rhetoric with affable, fatherly jokes.

The Last King is an excellent study of Amin, his motivations and paranoias but the predictable nature of the film niggled me initially. I knew the set up and that something gruesome was on the way (some scene's are particularly shocking as the film nears its end) but when the gears are stepped up the tension works and you're on the edge of your seat. The 70s vibe contrasts well with the realities of Africa, from the sparse villages to the urban nightmare that Nicholas encounters. Both an engaging human drama and a nuanced historical study, watch this film if you relish taught subject matter and electrifying performances. Do not watch it on a full stomach.

4 comments:

Jenny! said...

That was the most thorough review I think I have ever read! Well done!

Tommy Harmer said...

A fascinating film in many ways but leaves me wondering why the real Scottish doctor chose to allow a pseudonym to be used - given the level of activities that he is "confessing" to. If they are not accurate accounts, then it surely throws into doubt the supposed antics of Amin? I am no apoogist for the ludicrous dictator, just a bit peeved that the "truth" of the film appears to have been prostituted for visual effect.
How accurate was it really?

Tommy Harmer said...

or an apologist........

Em said...

Tommy: I was under the impression the Nick character was fictitious, just a tool slotted into Amin's world to make the movie work...and yep, I had the same qualms you did as to the true character of Amin. But we'll never know if he was really capable of visiting such horrors on the people close to him, however he really was a bit of a loony and he definately killed and exiled thousands. ~shrugs~