Wednesday, October 18, 2006

THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND - well-acted but...

THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND is a much-hyped first feature from acclaimed documentary film-maker, Kevin MacDonald. It features Forest Whitaker (GHOST DOG, PANIC ROOM) in a fantastic performance as the Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin. Set in the 1970s and filmed on location in Uganda, the movie uses hand-held documentary style photography, editing and vintage tunes to bring Amin's reign to life. For the first time on film we see how bloody charming Amin was - what a popular demagogue - and the full extent of his bizarre love of the Scottish people.* We get far less of a feel for what a menace he was - even in a grotesque scene of violence near the end. It is filmed in such a way as to seem almost like an exploitation flick - it seems disembodied from the rest of the film - surreal rather than anchoring the drama of the story.

Come to think of it, there is quite a lot I didn't like about this movie, performances aside. I didn't like
the insertion of the early love interest with Gillian Anderson's perfectly pitched upper class Brit. Perhaps it really happened, but it just held the narrative up. I didn't like the orchestral score. It was over-worked and manipulative, even resorting to the dreaded high-pitched violins at a moment of gruesome horror. I didn't like the Kay Amin story-line. Again, it may have happened that way but it was something I had seen in a million different films, notwithstanding the exact rendering of the denouement. And finally, I didn't like the protagonist. This is not a comment on James McAvoy's performance - which is A-okay. Rather on the character itself. Nicholas comes across as a wilfully naive, callow, self-important man in over his head. He turns his nose up at his father's quiet propriety and at Simon McBurney's scene-stealing oily diplomat, but these are the better men. In particular, Nicholas takes the diplomat's insistence on "clarification" as obfuscation - but they are fateful words. I realise that it's usually praise-worthy for a director to allow a protagonist to be unlikeable, but I found it a great bar to my empathising with his situation and his downfall. And isn't that a point of a film like this? There but for the Grace of God go I? After all, there is little else to it. Kevin MacDonald has not lifted his eyes up from this human morality tale to look at the political or social context behind Idi Amin's story.

Overall then, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND joins that roll-call of London Film Fest gala films - SYLVIA, THE CONSTANT GARDENER, GOOD NIGHT & GOOD LUCK - with worthy intentions, compelling central performances - and yet no real bite.

THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND played Telluride, Toronto and London and has been on limited release in the US. It opens in the UK and Sweden in January 2007, in Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil, Belgium, Argentina, Italy and France in February 2007. *Not bizarre because Scots are inherently unloveable but bizarre insofar as he goes around dressed in a kilt, naming his kids Campbell and Mackenzie and offering to liberate Scotland from the English!


  1. "*Not bizarre because Scots are inherently unloveable..."

    There are two things wrong with this statement. Firstly, it doesn't make any sense in relation to the part you are referring to in your post. Secondly, I'm a Scot so you've hurt my feelings :'-( Having said that, everyone in blogworld seems to hate me right now so I suppose it doesn't really matter lol

  2. I wasn't really offended or hurt by what you said Bina. I was just joking. I know you don't have anything against Scots or you wouldn't be friends with Nick or have asked me to join you in Edinburgh for drinks (or have asked Matt to do the same). I'm looking forward to (hopefully) meeting you next month while I'm visiting the special one (that's Nick, not Jose lol). And don't worry about what I said about being hated in blogworld. I was exaggerating.

    Peace Out! ;-)