REVIEW: The Last King of Scotland

The film shows why only Whitaker deserved the Oscar this year, writes Vinayak Chakravorty.
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Published on Mar 03, 2007 03:27 PM IST
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None | ByVinayak Chakravorty, New Delhi

The Last King Of Scotland
Cast: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Gillian Anderson, Abby Mukiibi, Simon McBurney, Adam Kotz
Direction: Kevin Macdonald
Rating: ***1/2

A certain smug predictability preceded the announcement of this year's Best Actor Oscar winner. On watching The Last King Of Scotland, you realise why Forest Whitaker's towering performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin deserves every accolade and more.

You can't help but marvel at the relish with which the by-and-large underrated African American star sinks his teeth into the flesh of Amin. Watching The Last King also makes you realise why only Whitaker could have walked away with the golden statuette this year.

His role was just cut out for the honour - a powerful, controversial figure of history, written for the screen in sync with the taste and demands of Oscar politics. Without taking anything away from the gifted actor, Whitaker's Amin is merely first among equals. Peter O'Toole's portrayal of an ageing, has-been movie star in Venus didn't have a socio-political message, and that's something the Oscars don't like.

Last year's other male performance of note wasn't even nominated - Leonardo Di- Caprio in The Departed (Leo's nomination for Blood Diamond was a way of putting it succinctly: you're still too much of a brash superstar to make the cut, boy). There's very little by way of the Amin lore that hasn't already been told by Hollywood (1981's The Rise And Fall Of Idi Amin comes to mind) and, as a film, The Last King doesn't venture beyond known waters either.

The USP here is the fact that Amin is deconstructed through the eyes of Dr Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy; simply superb), the dictator's personal physician. That bit adds an intimate touch to the Ugandan megalomaniac's character sketch, reliving his tyranny, oddities, rage and frailties as the doctor witnessed them.

It's not enough to make you sit back and introspect over the quality of cinema being peddled - let's say it's just about enough to let Whitaker play the field with 61 and as he does.

Director Kevin Macdonald's treatment seems to be uniformly uneven - it's almost as if he tries desperately to strike a balance between the various shades of Idi Amin (and doesn't wholly succeed). In the end, if Macdonald's Amin toggles impressively between a publicity-hungry politician and a brutal mass murderer, it's full credit to Forest Whitaker's talent.

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