As most films that take place in Africa, The Last King of Scotland has the standard scene of overly happy children running beside a dirt road waving. As most African-based films, it also has your standard naive white man who goes to Africa to help make things better. But The Last King of Scotland is far from standard. It's one of those great movies that you'll never see again.
You'll never see it again not because it wasn't good, because believe me, it is damn good. You'll never see it again because you'll never forget it. The images will stay with you long enough that you probably won't need (or want) to watch this movie for a long while. The harshness of Idi Amin's rule is hidden from view for most of the film, but somehow the audience is really never allowed to forget that it's there.
Forest Whitaker's portrayal of Amin is spectacular, and I don't need to be a history buff to see this. From the moment he steps on the stage at the beginning of the movie, I know that this man is a presence to be reckoned with. Whitaker shows every side of Amin from playful to paranoid to murderous, and I never want to look away.
The cinematography and the editing also grabbed me. The camera is mostly hand held and always seems to be moving. The cuts are long when necessary, letting the action play out, and the transitions give us a moment to breathe and take in the scene that precedes it. The lack of stillness and the steady pacing adds to the uncomfortable feeling I had in the back of my mind, waiting for the moment when Nicholas (James McAvoy) would realize that Amin was not the man he appeared to be.
A lot of the reviews I've read have criticized the writers for creating a fictional character to tell the story of a real dictator, but I don't agree. I believe that Nicholas' naivete helps the audience connect with the story, helps them see Amin for everything he was. If Amin had been the central character of this story, I don't believe we would've understood how the Ugandan people could've cheered in the streets when he came to power.
This is not a run out and see it now kind of movies, but I will say don't miss it. If it's not playing in a theatre near you, be sure to catch it on DVD. It's definitely not an easy movie to sit through, but not all great movies are.