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The Last King of Scotland(2006)
This is Idi Amin's incredible story as seen through the eyes of Nicholas Garrigan, a young Scotsman who becomes the volatile leader's personal physician, due in part to Amin's unexpected passion for Scottish culture - Amin even proclaims himself "The Last King of Scotland". Seduced by Amin's charisma and blinded by decadence, Garrigan's dream life becomes a waking nightmare of betrayal and madness from which there is no escape.
For more about The Last King of Scotland and the The Last King of Scotland Blu-ray release, see the The Last King of Scotland Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on February 12, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Gillian Anderson, Simon McBurney, David Oyelowo
Director: Kevin Macdonald
» See full cast & crew
The Last King of Scotland Blu-ray Review
Charming. Magnetic. Murderous.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, February 12, 2010
Is there some kind of rule that says that all dictators, along with being charismatic and power- hungry, have to have at least one unexpected, particularly idiosyncratic interest and/or a bizarre taste in fashion? Think Colonel Gaddafi and his wacko, Michael Jackson-esque outfits, Kim Jong-Il's love of Britney Spears, Saddam Hussein's romance novels and gold-plated assault rifles, or former Burmese leader Ne Win, who changed the country's currency so that all bills would be divisible by 9. One of the odder examples is Idi Amin, who ruled Uganda during the 1970s and was so obsessed with Scotland that he had his army's marching band learn to play bagpipes, and often wore a kilt. Jokingly proclaiming himself as the "Last King of Scotland," Amin saw a kinship between the Scots oppression by the English and his own country's plight to get out from under the thumb of British colonialism. Lest that sound too inspiring—this isn't some sub-Saharan Braveheart—he was also a vicious and erratic dictator whose regime was responsible for the deaths of 100-300,000 Ugandans. Amin is at the center of director Kevin Macdonald's appropriately titled The Last King of Scotland, a brutal, fictional thriller set within the real life horrorshow of Amin's corrupt administration.
Our guide through this political firestorm is adventure-seeking Scotsman Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a recent med-school graduate who literally spins a globe, sticks out his finger, and stops on Uganda. The day he arrives in the country—to work in a rural medical mission— president Obote is unseated by a military coup led by General Amin (Forest Whitaker), a former soldier in the British Colonial Army who served under Scottish officers. Amin sprains his wrist after a political rally, and Garrigan is summoned to assist. Their introduction is tense—leveled machine guns, a dying cow moaning in misery, a sudden outburst—but the moment Garrigan divulges that he's a Scot, the air clears and Amin heaves the hearty laugh we'll hear so often throughout the film. (A laugh that becomes increasingly more maniacal and tense.) Soon, Garrigan is taken into Amin's confidence as his personal doctor, a position that gradually morphs into a right-hand-man advisory role. For a while, it's all good times and sunshine, days spent rebuilding the country's medical infrastructure and lounging by the presidential pool. Garrigan feels, in some small way, that he's making a difference. He's impetuous, though, and vain—so blinded by his newfound power that he doesn't notice Amin's looming paranoia, the disappearances of cabinet officials, or the fact that he's in way, way over his head.
Despite the sickness and poverty that Garrigan encounters, the first third of the film is almost lighthearted, capturing that inimitable feeling of being young and abroad. Garrigan is "an overseas medical officer!" This, he screams during a bout of joyous lovemaking with a local woman—a foreshadowing of the tryst with one of Amin's wives, Kay (Kerry Washington), that will be his undoing. No spoiler alert required; we can envision the whole tragedy unfolding as soon as he meets her at a state party and their eyes lock. As a subplot, it seems completely unnecessary, and this is the only time when the film feels like it's prodding historical accuracy to make room for maudlin movieland improbabilities. I see the rationale—the film uses the affair to show us Amin's brutality and intolerance to any kind of disloyalty—but this is a point that's already been made. The real meat of the drama is Garrigan's relationship with Amin, which vacillates depending on the dictator's unpredictable moods. One minute Garrigan is Amin's "most trusted advisor," almost like a son, and the next he's a "nobody," trapped inside a government that's spiraling out of control. The tension ratchets as their mutual dependency grows; Amin is a buffoon in the eyes of the world who needs Garrigan's more level-headed advice, and Garrigan can't leave the country without Amin's approval. As the situation goes from bad to unbelievably worse, the last act is a real nail-biter, fraught with barbaric violence and claustrophobia.
The Last King of Scotland is thrilling and moving in equal measures, thanks in large part to Forest Whitaker, who plays Amin as both a tyrannical despot and a man with almost childlike vulnerability. In lesser hands, the role could've lapsed into a single-note display of unsympathetic evil, but Whitaker is charming and good-natured, initially portraying Amin with magnanimously open arms. His transformation throughout the film is genuinely frightening as Amin goes from merely cautious to downright confrontational and afraid, his grip on political reality slowly slipping. James McAvoy isn't quite as charismatic of a presence, but he doesn't need to be. He's our eyes and ears in this unfamiliar world, and his character's arc from merely naive and self-satisfied to thoroughly overwhelmed is more than convincing. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent, though Gillian Anderson's small role as the wife of a missionary doctor feels undeveloped. She really only serves to demonstrate Garrigan's weakness for women.
Working off of a novel by Giles Foden, director Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void) crafts an Afro-centric, political period piece that captures the intensity of its post-colonial milieu, but also feels strikingly contemporary. In the last few years, there's been a growing canon of similar films —think Blood Diamond and The Constant Gardener—and they all have one thing in common: they're told through the eyes of white Africans or Europeans who experience a moral failure, conflict, or loss, and have to make it right or learn something about themselves. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but there's something slightly exploitive about using war-torn, poverty-stricken Africa to frame stories of white redemption. Why can't we have more films told from the perspective of native Africans?
The Last King of Scotland Blu-ray, Video Quality
The Last King of Scotland debuts on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that's true to source, and will have grain-lovers smiling at the warm, gritty, fully cinematic image on display. Most of the film was shot on 16mm—with only select scenes shot on 35mm—so grain is quite noticeable. It looks completely natural, though, and while there are a few spikes in analog noisiness, especially during darker scenes, the image quality is never compromised. The film is never going to be as sharp as those shot natively on 35mm, but clarity is excellent, all things considered. Forest Whitaker's face gleams with sweat, the texture of his skin easily visible, rural foliage pops off the screen, and there's ample detail to be noticed on the film's props and sets. As expected from the African setting, the color palette is lush and varied, from dusty orange dirt roads and deep green grass to the president's aquamarine pool and cool palace interiors. Primaries are especially vivid, with the red and yellow of Amin's epaulets standing out strongly. Black levels can get a bit oppressive at times, but this seems to be an intentional effect of the high-contrast cinematography. And aside from some blotchy pixilation in a cloud of dust, I didn't notice any transfer-related compression issues. Overall, this is a great looking transfer that represents the film well.
The Last King of Scotland Blu-ray, Audio Quality
I was also more than pleased by the film's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, which, while not being one of the most action-packed and aggressive mixes I've heard, is certainly dense, full of life and activity. The surround channels are activated frequently, called upon to broadcast place- establishing ambient noise, like birds singing and insects buzzing in the rural village, the cheers of the throng at a political rally, the coming and going of cars in Kampala, and the poolside splash and chatter outside Amin's lavish estate. There aren't many distinct channel movements, but the mix as a whole is enveloping, especially later in the film, when some more impressionistic sound editing techniques are used to sell Garrigan's descent into a political hell. There were a few moments when I felt the actors' voices could be slightly higher in the mix, but I had no trouble understanding any of the dialogue. The film's real audio highlight is the fantastic music. Alex Heffes score is great, but it's often overshadowed by all the wonderful Afro-pop used to set the mood. I have no real qualms about this track; it's engaging, detailed, and dynamically solid.
The Last King of Scotland Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Commentary by Director Kevin Macdonald
Macdonald gives a quiet but wildly informative track that's loaded not only with lots of production details and anecdotes, but also a striking amount of insight into the life and history of the real Idi Amin. A great listen.
Do note that subtitles are available for the commentary in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Dutch.
Deleted Scenes (SD, 12:00)
Includes seven deleted and alternate scenes, available with optional commentary by director Kevin Macdonald.
Capturing Idi Amin (SD, 29:04)
Part historical documentary and part "making of" featurette, Capturing Idi Amin is a substantial look at both the real man and The Last King of Scotland, featuring interviews with the cast and crew, as well as Ugandan citizens who survived Amin's regime. The highlight of the bonus features.
Forest Whittaker - Idi Amin (SD, 5:59)
Whittaker and James McAvoy discuss Idi Amin as a character and a historical figure.
Fox Movie Channel Presents: Casting Session (SD, 8:36)
Somewhat of a thematic extension of the above, the discussion is broadened to include the director, the producer, and the film's casting director, who weigh in on the difficulty of finding an actor who fit all of their requirements for the role.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:18)
The Last King of Scotland Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
If you can get past the fact that The Last King of Scotland is yet another film set in Africa that's told from a distinctly white perspective, you'll find a gripping political thriller and some terrific performances. Forest Whitaker, in particular, is simply brilliant, switching from deep belly laughs to fire-eyed fury with the turn of a mood. On Blu-ray, the movie is part of an excellent package, sporting a filmic, true to source transfer, a great lossless audio track, and a host of supplementary features, including an Idi Amin documentary and an insightful commentary track by director Kevin Macdonald. Recommended.
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