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“Last King" More About Arrogance, Less About Dictatorship

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • Updated Apr 20, 2007
“Last King" More About Arrogance, Less About Dictatorship

DVD Release Date:  April 17, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  September 27, 2006 (limited)
Rating:  R (for some strong violence and gruesome images, sexual content and language)
Genre:  Thriller/Drama
Run Time: 121 min.
Director:  Kevin MacDonald
Actors:  Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington, Gillian Anderson, Simon McBurney, David Oyelowo

When Idi Amin seized control of Uganda in 1971, he was welcomed by Ugandans and the international community alike.  Amin promised to hold free and fair elections and to return the country to a democracy.  He disbanded the secret police and released political prisoners, leading many to believe that he would be a fair and just ruler. 

It was not to be.  Within months, the media had reported scattered incidents of torture and bloodshed.  Soon, few would deny that the benevolent dictator had become a bloodthirsty autocrat.  And, although Amin would be eventually deposed and exiled, he would leave hundreds of thousands dead during his eight-year reign.

The International Commission of Jurists estimates Amin’s victims at 300,000.  Amnesty International places the figure closer to 500,000.  Either way, Amin was never punished.  He died in exile in Saudia Arabia in 2003.

“The Last King of Scotland” takes its name from one of the many titles Amin liked to bestow upon himself (which include “Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea” and “Conqueror of the British Empire in General and Uganda in Particular”).  Based on the novel by Giles Foden, the film recounts a slice of Ugandan history through a fictional lens. 

When Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) graduates from medical school, he has no idea what he wants to do – except leave Scotland.  He spins his globe and determines to go wherever his finger lands.  Unfortunately, it lands on Canada, so Garrigan spins again.  Uganda.  Garrigan accepts a position with a medical mission run by the dedicated Dr. Merritt (Adam Kotz) and his wife, Sarah (Gillian Anderson).  Before arriving at the Ugandan outpost, however, he enjoys a one-night stand with an African woman.  Soon, Garrigan is on the make with the lonely Sarah as well, who reluctantly but wisely resists his charms.

During a chance encounter with Amin (Forest Whitaker), Garrigan bandages the president’s hand and impresses him by shooting a wounded cow.  Amin invites Garrigan to become his personal physician and soon, the novice physician is driving a new Mercedes convertible and frolicking on Amin’s properties, all expenses paid.  Eventually, Garrigan realizes that his new best friend is not so benign.  This realization comes far too late for Garrigan to easily extricate himself, however.  Can he escape Amin’s notorious wrath without becoming another victim?  It seems unlikely, especially given that so few did.

Whitaker rightly won the 2006 Oscar for this performance, which is near flawless.  He exudes frightening menace and charming guile, leading us to understand why historians remain divided about whether Amin was insane or simply “crazy as a fox.”  Few doubt the man was evil, of course, but Whitaker manages to imbibe the brutal dictator with a shred of humanity as well.  Frighteningly, he’s almost likable.

McAvoy is a decent actor, but he’s woefully miscast here.  His youth and endless gullibility stretch our credibility to the limits, especially after he becomes involved with one of Amin’s wives (Kerry Washington, playing her part to perfection).  By the film’s climax, it’s hard to sympathize with this hapless protagonist, who has few redeeming qualities.  Partly, this is the fault of the script.  But an older Garrigan – along with some editorial scene-swapping – would have solved this problem.

Director Kevin MacDonald shows a bit too much torture and dismemberment, but his talent is evident – and his message is important.  It’s not so much about brutal dictators as it is about Western arrogance.  “I will go to Africa and I will play the white man with the natives,” Amin taunts Garrigan.  “Is that what you thought?  We are not a game.  This is real.”

We’re being issued a warning about taking others for granted and using the world as our playground, as Westerners have done throughout the centuries.  We may live for the moment, this film seems to say, but eventually we must all pay the price – which is often far, far more than anyone would ever expect. 

A Christian message?  Absolutely, in the context of an excellent film.

AUDIENCE:  Adults only


  • Director’s commentary
  • Casting session
  • Documentary: “Capturing Idi Amin”
  • Featurette with Forest Whitaker
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • International Trailer
  • Alternate Scenes
  • Deleted Scenes


  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Drinking and smoking throughout film, as well as possible drug use.  In several scenes characters are drunk.
  • Language/Profanity:  Obscenities and profanities throughout film, some very strong.
  • Sexual Content/Nudity:  Upper female nudity in several instances; several sexual situations; sexual allusions and several graphic sex scenes with rear male nudity.
  • Violence:  Extreme violence throughout film, including graphic beatings, murders, torture and dismemberment – though most are offscreen.