Movie Review: Last King of Scotland

In a shocking development, I actually went to a movie theater over the weekend. The flick? Last King of Scotland.

I watch so few movies that I have virtually no comparisons or context; the result is that every movie I watch is “pretty good”. Last King of Scotland definitely fits this bill, with the exception of Forest Whitaker’s performance which was absolutely extraordinary. If you read about Whitaker’s preparation for the role, you’ll see the correlation between upfront preparation and the end result. Apparently he didn’t lose his Swahili-accent for months after production ended.

The movie tracks General Idi Amin’s rise to power in Uganda in the late 1970s. We watch a dictator whose charm is undeniable. At the beginning, he wins the affection of a young Scottish doctor (and me!). But not for long. We learn that the good intentions he displays in public are destroyed by the mass murders he secretly orders against opponents. Indeed, the film reinforces the worst realities of many African countries over the years: tyrannical rule by unelected dictators who squander money and kill opponents; the hopeful thinking of the people that “this president could be the man who turns things around” and then the crushing reality; corruption inside and out of the government; and on and on and on.

As with any movie which is either based on real events or, as in the case of this film, “inspired by real people and events,” it’s always fun to read up on the actual events and identify where the filmmakers exaggerated. My brief research suggests that the movie is accurate enough to give a sense as to what happened, untrue side plots notwithstanding.

The most penetrating line of the movie comes near the end, when a black minister turns to the Scottish doctor who’s escaping from the country and says: “Tell the world what’s really happening here. They’ll believe you. You’re a white man.”

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