Charming the right people can obscure the harshness of reality, especially when coupled with killing the people on whom the charm doesn’t work. When one brutal leader is overthrown, it is easy to hope the new leader will somehow be better. Sadly, they are often times worse than their predecessors.
The Last King of Scotland follows Nicholas Garrigan — a fictional character very loosely based on Bob Astles — to Uganda after graduating as a doctor. He quickly learns of the coup establishing Idi Amin as the new Ugandan President. Not long after meeting Amin, Garrigan becomes the president’s personal doctor and eventually his closest advisor.
Like many films based on some real events, The Last King of Scotland mixes truth with fiction and does so effectively. Instead of creating cheesy, over-produced characters, the film has the likeable, yet still flawed, Dr. Garrigan. Though James McAvoy does fine as Nicholas Garrigan, the film rides on the performance of Forest Whitaker. He makes the brutal Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, come to life on screen. His murderous brutality is combined with a little charm, making him still likeable to the unknowing outsider. It is what makes it plausible that some could have still celebrated such a horrible man. And it is exactly why The Last King of Scotland is a phenomenal film.
The Last King of Scotland is a film about garish brutality with more insinuations than glimpses. However the few glances at the brutality of Amin shown in the film are harsh. Making an example of one of his wives for her betraying him, Amin has her limbs removed and her legs sewn back on as her arms and her arms replacing her legs. If Amin could do that to his wife, one can only imagine what he would do to a political opponent.