Because Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was such a murderous creep, it takes a lot to convince people that he might've also been a fun guy to party with. But in The Last King Of Scotland, director Kevin Macdonald has two strong persuaders: a kinetic style, and Forest Whitaker. As Amin, Whitaker gives a scarily charismatic performance, whipping quickly but naturally between joyous charm and steely rage. In the past, Whitaker has tended to lean too much on his low-key, mumbly side, playing off the irony that such a big man could be so gentle. But with his guest stint earlier this year on The Shield, and now with The Last King Of Scotland, Whitaker has started to use his oversized frame and off-center gaze to exude real menace. He's perversely attractive.
In Macdonald's hands, The Last King Of Scotland's breakneck rush through a heady half-decade of African nationalism plays like Boogie Nights: The Sub-Saharan Years. James McAvoy stars as a glib young Scottish doctor who wants to change the world and have a ball. When he meets Amin, McAvoy is initiated into the high life of state dinners, sports cars, nubile prostitutes, and high-level cabinet meetings. Macdonald—who previously directed the energetic documentaries One Day In September and Touching The Void—cuts together the first hour of The Last King Of Scotland to the rhythm of early '70s Afrobeat, driving viewers to identify with McAvoy's loyal defense of the madman who pays his bar bills. "I'm his doctor," McAvoy says to those who challenge Amin's ethics. "It's not my job to judge."
Of course, there must come a reckoning, and in The Last King Of Scotland, the loss of innocence consumes the whole final hour, during which time Whitaker appears less often, his screen time stolen by an increasingly weepy McAvoy. The climax of the movie juxtaposes McAvoy's attempts to flee the country with Amin's role in the Entebbe hijacking incident, which pushes audience identification past its limit. As one of the most famous hostage situations in modern world history takes place, audiences are asked to concern themselves primarily with the fate of one decadent doctor. The Last King Of Scotland makes a stronger case when it's demonstrating how opulent power-lunches corrupt absolutely.