We just got back from seeing The Last King of Scotland, Kevin MacDonald’s film about a Scotsman, played by James McAvoy, who becomes the personal doctor of Idi Amin, the president of Uganda, played by Forest Whitaker, in 1971. Here’s the trailer, which does a great job of giving a sense of the film’s suspenseful action and political themes:

The film is based on a novel by Giles Foden. Many of the political events depicted in the film are true, but the main character, McAvoy’s Nicholas Garrigan, is fictional. Garrigan is based, in part, on a British soldier who became a key advisor to Amin.

I really liked this film. Recent articles have compared this movie to The Queen and Forest Whitaker’s performance to Helen Mirren‘s — both purport to show us the private lives of public rulers during historically accurate events in their lives. In fact, though, I found this movie to be much better than The Queen. I still hope Mirren wins the Oscar, but The Last King of Scotland doesn’t feel like a made-for-t.v. movie like The Queen does. This film is both sweeping in its depiction of Amin’s brutality and the violence of his dictatorship and an intimate portrayal of one man’s interactions with him.

Whitaker certainly deserves all of the accolades that he is receiving for this role. He manages first to humanize Amin and then slowly to show us this man’s inhumanity and mental instability. It’s a towering performance, which explains why Whitaker is up for Best Actor when in fact his role is a supporting one. He will certainly be robbed if he doesn’t win.

James McAvoyThe lead actor in this film is actually McAvoy, pictured here in a promotion shot for the Toronto Film Festival. He is the heart and soul of this story, and McAvoy does an excellent job showing us how and why his character can become involved with Amin and then slowly realize all of his mistakes in doing so. He manages to embody his character with an idealism that seems genuine, especially as we come to see it as based, at least in part, on a fundamental racism. He wants to “make a difference” in Africa, but he knows nothing about the continent or the nation of Uganda. His idealism is ultimately exposed as naivete.

I first saw McAvoy in the miniseries Children of Dune in 2003. I also saw him in Bright Young Things (2003), The Chronicles of Narnia (2005), and the BBC America adaptation of Macbeth (2005). He’s been good in everything I’ve seen him in, but I especially liked his performance in Bright Young Things. He is really excellent in that movie, and I think it’s what really shows his promise as an actor. He plays an aristocrat who secretly writes a gossip column about the bright young things who dominate the most elite circles of 1930s London social circuit.

And let’s face it: McAvoy is beautiful. His brunette hair, pale skin, and blue eyes are my ideal. The Last King of Scotland makes good use of McAvoy’s attractiveness — he has a couple of revealing sex scenes, one scene in which he changes clothes, and a couple of scenes in which he wears a speedo. But his attractiveness really lies in his acting as much as in his face and body. He plays a kind of everyman very well, an everyman who just happens to be my ideal man!

This movie is also very good in its weaving together of the public horrors suffered by the people of Uganda under Amin and its intimate scenes from the lives of its characters. In doing so, it manages to say a lot about western colonialism, politics, and racism while also focusing primarily on the historical situation in Uganda, its political turmoil, and its aspirations to play a leading role in African and world politics. The film is well written and directed; I also liked the cinematography. And it’s always good to see Gillian Anderson in a picture. Kerry Washington is also good in a small, but pivotal role as one of Amin’s wives.

The Last King of Scotland is one of the best films of 2006, in my opinion. It’s certainly in my top 5 of the year. It has everything you could want in a movie: politics, social issues, a handsome leading man (who isn’t afraid of nudity–always a plus), suspense, violence, and relevance. It’s an excellent movie.

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