Nicholas Garrigan is a free spirit young man who has just finished med school and is aching to get away from his parents. He spins the plastic globe in his room and lands his finger on Uganda. The movie jumps right there as he travels to a missionary to be a volunteer doctor. From the opening credits and his actions with Sarah Merrit (Gillian Anderson) at the missionary we can see that this character is immature and just looking for a fun way to live.
One day he is stopped by the President's army because apparently the President is in need of a doctor. He drives up to find the President standing next to his car in the ditch and a dying longhorn bull laying on the side of the road. A giant deal is made over a simply bruised hand and during the chaos Nicholas takes the President's gun and puts the screaming animal out of its misery. I suppose it was the strength that Nicholas demonstrated then and there that appealed to Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker). From that point on a new friendship is made as Amin takes Nicholas under his wing to be his personal physician. Nicholas is reluctant at first to accept the offer because he knows that the missionary is in need of his help much more than the charming dictator. Of course we can't forget that Nicholas wants to live the good life, and he cannot resist all that Amin offers him. He cannot resist temptation and gives in, practically selling his soul to the devil if you will. From that point things begin to escalate and Nicholas sees what Amin truly is, and that is a power hungry murderer.
The story itself is an easy one to follow, and we immediately connect and relate to the main characters. Director Kevin Macdonald gets us acquainted with Nicholas and Amin, so we sort of open up as an audience to them. We follow Nicholas' journey in that we accept Idi Amin as a fun loving and passionate leader. But as the story moves along we as an audience move away from both Nicholas and Amin. Nicholas's fatal flaw as a character is greed since he is easily tempted with material goods and the promises of fame and fortune, not to mention sexual temptation with one of the many wives of Amin. We begin to pity him for the moral mistakes he makes, but deep in our hearts we want him to survive because he was truly taken advantage of by a powerful figure. Paradise soon becomes hell, and a struggle to escape the closing grasp of darkness begins. The only flaw of the film was in its structure. Things move really quickly, it's a fast paced film, but I would have liked to linger a bit more with Nicholas' character at the missionary. I felt we jumped in way too fast, and the entire timeline of Idi Amin's reign felt like it occurred over a week. The film's events felt consecutive which made it feel like the entire film happened in a month, yet in actuality the timeline spans from 1971 to 1979.
Forest Whitaker gives the best performance of his career. You will not see such a captivating and authentic example of acting anywhere else. Will he win the Oscar? If it were up to me he would, but it's been hard to predict the Oscars the past few years. Now, I could go on and on about Forest Whitaker's performance, but then that would be injust to James McAvory. McAvory was introduced to American audiences last year when he played Mr. Tumnus in The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe. In this film he sells the character completely and makes him very accessible. His change of character once he figures out deep of a hole he has dug himself in is perfect for the film, and he gives an equally good performance as Whitaker. Fine acting from the two, very fine.
The Last King of Scotland is out January 12, 2006.