Last King Of Scotland (The)
R3 - Hong Kong - Deltamac
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (4th September 2007).
The Film

In 1974 filmmaker Barbet Schroeder released his documentary "Général Idi Amin Dada" the film followed the charismatic dictator as he showed off his army and regime, there were hints of madness in the man and a certain sense of uneasiness and paranoia about his demeanor while putting on a show for the cameras. Amin covered himself in a vale of this jolly-African-larger-than-life personality that cared for his people when in reality he was an undeniably ruthless killer and disposed of all who apposed him in order to remain in power. History has shown us this model fail over and over again: a dictator put into the position of power by a superpower inevitably becomes uncontrollable. While Manuel Noriega was America's dirty little shame (put in power of Panama) then Amin is most certainly Britain's. The general's legacy is both fascinating and riveting to the outsider and it wasn't long until a film was made which also looks at not only his rise to power but eventual spiral into paranoia. However "The Last Kind of Scotland" is not a straight true-story, in fact it's based on the novel of the same name by Giles Foden who writes about a fictional young doctor taken under the wings of Amin. It is essentially a fictional story told among real events. This event is the military coup in Uganda that placed Amin in power over the ousted president Milton Obote.
"The Last King of Scotland" refers to the self-proclaimed moniker Amin placed upon himself, and although the general is featured heavily in this film it's really about a young Scottish doctor, Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) who decides to travel to Uganda in order to seek adventure and get away from his parents and the boring lives they lead. Once he's arrived in Uganda, he takes work at a hospital working alongside Dr. Merrit (Adam Kotz) and his wife, Sarah (Gillian Anderson). Meanwhile a military coup has taken place and a new leader has risen to power, general Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker), when witnessing one his rallies and soon Nicolas becomes entwined with Amin and accepts a position as his personal physician, eventually he becomes his closest advisor but soon enough Nicolas starts seeing beyond the sheen of his new life and realises that Amin is a monster waiting to erupt while he continues to kill thousands of his own countrymen.
For director Kevin MacDonald, this film was his first narrative feature film, having previously gain notoriety for his documentary work including "Touching the Void" (2003). Not ignoring his documentary roots the film certainly feels like a historical document of period in the life of Dr. Garrigan and to convey a sense of reality the filmmakers traveled to Uganda and with the permission of the country's president was allowed to film there and gain access to government buildings and streets (In fact this film is the first Western production shot in Uganda since "The African Queen" (1950)). This lends an air of authenticity to the overall film even though the story taking place within the country and set amid true historical events was fiction. MacDonald uses the locations to great effect in telling this story and guiding the story is the powerhouse that is Forest Whitaker, although this film is essentially about the doctor, make no mistake, performance-wise this is Whitaker's film. The performance stands as one of the most accurate and brilliantly conceived performances of a real-life person, Whitaker is so convincing as Amin that when shooting rally scenes in Uganda people actually thought it was the former dictator returned. And if that's not a seal of approval then I don't know what is? Whitaker would go virtually unchallenged throughout the year scooping up every major acting award including the Screen Actor's Guild, the Golden Globe and the Oscar. His performance is so dominating that the other cast almost seem incidental, for example did you know that Gillian Anderson is in this film? I did and even after watching it I nearly forgot, if Garrigan wasn't in nearly every scene I would have also forgotten that James McAvoy was also in this picture.
If anything this is one of those films that simply has to be seen because of the dynamic presence and execution of the character by Whitaker, who until now has been a largely underrated actor and hopefully, with the golden statue in hand will be seen in many more great films and in great roles to come.
"The Last King of Scotland" is a fine first narrative feature from MacDonald, it presents an interesting and captivating fictional account set amid a very real backdrop, and the fine performances are accentuated with equally stunning photography and a score that encapsulates the African nation and that specific era. It's a fine film indeed and comes recommended.

Video

Presented in the film's original 2.35:1 theatrical ratio, this anamorphic transfer is another very solid effort from Fox. The film maintains sharpness throughout and detail is also consistently good. Colors are vivid and well represented, with skin tones appearing bold and natural. Black levels are deep and accurate with shadow detail also remaining consistent throughout the print, some film grain is evident and contrast may be a bit overblown in some exteriors. I spotted no compression related issues or any other major flaws. For the most part this is a very good transfer that presents the film brilliantly.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included in English Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as Thai Dolby Digital 5.1, for the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its English soundtrack. There's nothing all that incredible about this fairly standard surround mix, dialogue is crisp, clean and distortion free while action-orientated scenes such as the assassination attempt while testing Garrigan's new car and any scenes involving the army are well mixed and display some aggressiveness in the channels including the bass. The film's score comes across very well throughout the 5.1 sound space and adequately immerses the viewer.
Optional subtitles are included in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Thai and Bahasa Indonesian.

Extras

First up we've got a feature-length audio commentary by the film's director Kevin MacDonald. The track is screen-specific as he provides a broad range of information regarding the production, including his initial involvement in the picture, pre-production and developing the film and the decision to shoot in Uganda, he also provides insight into the filming process and the choice of cast including a lot of praise being handed to Whitaker. Some of the more interesting aspects of this track are hearing the various difficulties and challenges in shooting in Africa and gaining the government's approval and help in making the process easier on the crew. The track provides enough information for film buffs and fans of the film while also remaining fairly entertaining throughout the track, so if anything it's not boring and certainly worth listening to even though it would have been great to include some of the cast or even the author of the book as well would have been a welcomed addition.

Next up are a series of 7 deleted scenes which can be viewed with optional audio commentary by director Kevin MacDonald and includes a 'play all' function. The scenes included are:
- "Uganda, 1948" runs for 1 minute 46 seconds as we see a young Amin in 1948.
- "The Mission" runs for 29 seconds, Garrigan is shown his accommodation at the mission.
- "Good Times (Alternate)" runs for 1 minute 37 seconds, and is an alternate montage sequence with Garrigan and Amin having fun together, includes footage of them at a night club, at the pool party, boxing with the kids of Uganda etc.
- "Idi's Test/Nicholas' Suit" runs for 1 minute 27 seconds, Amin receives the results of his medical test and later Garrigan dresses for his meeting.
- "The Same Woman" runs for 1 minute 6 seconds, Amin informs Garrigan that they have slept with the same woman (a mistress of his which he allowed Garrigan to have).
- "The Press Conference (Alternate)" runs for 4 minutes 15 seconds and is a slightly different version of the press conference seen in the film.
- "Stone Leaves/Nicholas Prepares" runs for 1 minute 16 seconds, Nigel Stone (Simon McBurney) decides to leave the country and urges Garrigan to do the same, later Garrigan prepares a pill for Amin.

The first featurette is entitled "Capturing Idi Amin" which runs for 29 minutes 4 seconds, in this clip takes a look at the man and what he means to many Ugandans today. His action and what he did for the country is still very much myth for the younger people and he seems to split opinions from those that lived through his regime with some growing to fear and hate what he did while others supported it. The cast and crew are also interviewed about shooting the film in Uganda and adapting the book into the film among other things. It's not exactly a historical piece that I was expecting but still worth checking out.

Following that is "Forest Whitaker: Idi Amin", a featurette that runs for 6 minutes and takes a closer look at the actor who plays the over-the-top dictator as he and McAvoy talks about the characters and the story. It's a EPK clip that highlights their involvement in the film.

The third featurette is "Fox Movie Channel Presents: Casting Session - The Last King of Scotland" which runs for 8 minutes 37 seconds, this is an EPK created for the movie channel that takes a look at the amazing casting and performances that the film has as well as the involvement of the director. Generally a puff piece about how great the talent on this film is, not really worth repeated viewing.

Also included on this disc is the film' original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 26 seconds.

Rounding out the supplements is a DVD-ROM feature that allows you access to web links for Fox.

Overall

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: A-

 


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