Director Kevin MacDonald's 2003 film, "Touching the Void" was one of my favorite films of that year. That picture was a recreation of the story of Simon Yates and Joe Simpson, two climbers who found themselves struggling to survive when a climb in the mountains of Peru went horribly wrong. The story was a recreation and I knew how it ended before I watched, yet MacDonald's film managed to be deeply tense, horrifying and incredibly powerful. It's an amazing, underrated film that deserves a look for anyone who hasn't seen it yet.
"The Last King of Scotland" is McDonald's follow-up, and also takes a fictional look into a real life story (the film is based on the novel by Giles Foden.) The film follows Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a young doctor who has just gotten out of medical school in Scotland and is desperate to leave to try and go see the world. He decides to head out to Uganda to help the poor residents of the country and winds up there as a military coup by General Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker, in an Oscar winning role) puts the General in power.
By accident, Garrigan crosses paths with Amin after the General sustains an injury and handles the situation in a manner that catches the General's attention (as does the fact that the young man is from Scotland, as Amin is a fan of the country.) Soon enough, he is called in to Amin's office, where the General offers him the job of being his personal doctor. Although he's initially reluctant, the promise of power and the General's (at first) charming personality pulls the naive Garrigan in - and he accepts.
While the situation seems reasonable at first - Garrigan gets gifts, parties and rises to power as the General's main advisor. However, as Amin's erratic personality (friendly one minute, steely and cold the next) becomes apparent, Garrigan gradually realizes that he's gotten himself into a very dangerous situation of which he may not escape from, as Amin refuses to let him leave.
"Scotland" works as well as it does thanks to two excellent performances from Whitaker and McAvoy. Whitaker disappears into the role of Amin, fully inhabiting the light and (extremely) dark sides of the violent, psychotic General. McAvoy portrays the naive doctor well, making him just naive enough to believe the sudden, swift hit of clarity when he comes to realize what he's fallen into. The film's stunning cinematography and excellent pacing also give the film tension and an atmosphere of steadily increasing dread. Overall, this is an excellent follow-up to "Touching the Void", standing as another powerful, well-acted film from MacDonald.
VIDEO: "Last King of Scotland" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The screening copy of the film that was provided offered decent image quality, with some edge enhancement and artifacting being the main concerns. However, this is still not the final copy and unfortunately, I cannot make any final comments on it, as the final copy will likely offer differing (and hopefully better) image quality.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was quite good, but (as one might expect, given the material) surrounds were not given all that much to do. Some of the more intense sequences in the film used the surrounds to good effect to offer ambience or some minor sound effects, but the rear speakers otherwise remained soft or silent. Audio quality was terrific, with a rich, warm sounding score and clear, undistorted dialogue.
EXTRAS: Director Kevin MacDonald offers an enjoyable audio commentary for the feature, discussing casting, locations, production obstacles, historical details and more. MacDonald offers a lot of information and insight in this engaging track. The DVD also offers deleted scenes, a featurette on Whitaker's performance, a longer "Capturing Idi Amin" featurette, a Fox Movie Channel "Last King" featurette and trailer.
Final Thoughts: "Last King" is another powerful, well-acted film from MacDonald, with two great lead performances. The DVD offers a nice selection of supplements, as well.
The Film A-