I hadn't seen The Last King of Scotland all the way through in a long time, and when it comes to movies about dictators, I tend to stay away from the subject material. Honestly I've got no interest in watching stories about power mad leaders who slaughter tens of thousands of people. I understand the need to find out more about them and how their brutality is masked by a strange charisma, so to their credit, the filmmakers of The Last King of Scotland look at this, but with an outsider's perspective.
Based on the novel by Giles Foden, Jeremy Brock and Peter Morgan (The Damned United) adapted a screenplay that Kevin Macdonald (State of Play) directed. A recent medical school graduate, Doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy, Becoming Jane) is unsure of what he wanted to do with his life, so he decided to take an assignment overseas in medicine. Of all places, he chose Uganda, who was still dealing with the ramifications of a military coup overthrowing the leader Milton Obote. Through a chance meeting, he encounters the current leader, the notorious Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker, Vantage Point). Amin is fascinated by Garrigan and hit Scottish accent, and eventually brings him into the fold as his personal doctor and close adviser. The film follows him as he watches Amin's spiral down into a mix of brutality and paranoia, sometimes simultaneously.
The story is fictitious, but does include actual incidents in the film, such as Amin's expulsion of all non-Ugandan Asians from the country in 1972, and the hostage incident at Entebbe airport in 1976. These events serve as backdrop against Amin's irrational actions against many, and Garrigan's witnessing of them. The film is a toned down biopic/docu-drama, and shows more about the inner workings of Amin's mind and his motivations then other films have attempted to do. This makes them feel convincing and authentic.
This is in no small part to Whitaker. Not only does he bear a striking resemblance to the dictator, but does so with a mix of charm and violence that can chill to the bone. As Garrigan, McAvoy serves as the perfect blank slate to Amin's charms. It does make you wonder though; when a Scottish man almost swoons to the words and promises of the mad dictator, it is easy to see why some Ugandans are almost still enamored with the man today. He gave the hopeless something to reach for. They didn't see the beatings and executions; they saw themselves in Amin, and if he could do it, so could they.
And that's what helps give The Last King of Scotland a weight that not many other truer biopic films don't have. They don't go in-depth into the incidents mentioned above, and there's certainly dramatic liberty taken with history, particularly with the gruesome demise of one of Amin's wives (Kerry Washington, Lakeview Terrace). Nevertheless, The Last King of Scotland is a fascinating glimpse into the mind and madness of one of history's most violent dictators. It's not what they do in the film, but how they do it that makes you appreciate how effective it is.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Fox presents The Last King of Scotland in an AVC encoded 2.35:1 widescreen transfer, and the result is solid. Shot on location, the film's Ugandan background looks excellent, with lots of detail and dimension to had on the exteriors. Whitaker's face takes up most of the shot when he's in it, and you see lots of detail from it, with little softness. When McAvoy is on screen, the whites are slightly warmer and you see more of that funky '70s color schemes, with browns, oranges and yellows throughout. A better presentation than I was expecting.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track does play around with immersion during sequences like Amin's speech to an outdoor crowd and broken bottles in a duty-free shop illustrate the directional effects the soundtrack employs. Additionally dialogue is strong and balanced in the center channel without a lot of user adjustment. It's not a whirlwind of sonic activity, but proves to be effective listening.
A few things here, starting with a commentary from McDonald. He has a good deal of recollection about the production. He talks about how the Ugandan government helped with the production and has a few stories about filming there. He also chimes in with some additional information on Amin. While there's a bit of anecdotal information here, the production details are good and it's worth a listen. Next are seven deleted scenes (12:00), one of which show's Amin's boxing skills as a young man, but mainly are extended sequences that don't enhance much of the experience.
Next up is "Capturing Idi Amin" (29:04), which includes lots of newsreel footage of Amin, and includes many interviews with those who remember the regime. There are some cast and crew interviews, including one with Whitaker where he seems to be slightly in character. The differing views on him are illustrated, and the book is mentioned as well. It's an interesting supplement on the man. "Forest Whitaker Idi Amin" (5:59) includes Whitaker's approach to playing the character and McDonald's approach towards working with Whitaker. "FMC Casting Session" includes the casting decisions on the film (8:36), and Whitaker talks about portraying Amin a little more. The film's trailer (2:17) rounds the disc out.
The subject of The Last King of Scotland may not be the cheeriest in the world, but with excellent performances from Whitaker and McAvoy and a better than expected story, it certainly merits watching, even if you aren't curious about Idi Amin. Technically the disc is pretty good and from an extras perspective it's not too shabby, so give it a spin to see why Whitaker won his Oscar and make a purchasing decision from there.