The Last King of Scotland
Don't let the title fool you. The Last King of Scotland takes place not in the Highlands but in Uganda, and the title refers not to some European monarch but to one of the most notorious African dictators, Idi Amin. So why do this film—and the Giles Foden novel on which it is based—bear this title? Partly because "King of Scotland" was one of the many titles Amin gave himself during his brutal eight-year reign; another was "Conqueror of the British Empire." Amin, who rose through the ranks of the British colonial army under the patronage of Scottish officers before Uganda became independent, was a fan of all things Scottish, and sometimes wore kilts in public.
The film is also told from the point of view of Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy, last seen as Mister Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), a Scotsman who has just earned his medical degree, and who goes to Africa to get away from his stern father and to have some "fun"—having sex with total strangers, treating the odd patient, and soaking in the anti-English, anti-colonial atmosphere. When Nicholas first arrives in Uganda, he hears that Amin has just taken over the country in a coup, but the locals tell him not to worry; and the first time he sees Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker) himself, at a political rally surrounded by supporters and tribal dancers, he is impressed by the leader's charisma.
At this point, Garrigan is working at a mission with a pair of doctors whose marriage seems to be a little strained, and for a while, Garrigan befriends and even tries to seduce the female half of this couple (The X-Files' Gillian Anderson). But an unexpected roadside encounter with Amin, his bodyguards, and a wounded cow quickly sends Garrigan's life spinning in another direction. Amin, impressed by the foreigner's willfulness—and by his Scottishness!—makes Garrigan his personal physician, and treats him to all the pleasures that come with high office.
Ironically, because he is so close to Amin, it takes Garrigan a while to realize the extent to which Amin is, in fact, a murderous tyrant. The dictator, as played by Whitaker, is so disarmingly amusing at first—swapping shirts with Garrigan, teasing him about his hair, even asking him to ensure that no one else will hear about an embarrassing minor ailment or two—that it takes some time to notice the menace lurking beneath the smile. There are moments of violence, both distant and up close, but Garrigan accepts the explanation that the blame for this lies with the previous ruler, who he never knew. A British diplomat (Simon McBurney) warns Garrigan that Amin is worse than he seems, but Garrigan dismisses the information, convinced that the English are just making it up because they resent losing their Empire.
But then Amin crosses that line that separates the amusing from the truly insane. His declaration that he cannot be killed because God revealed to him the day that he would die is one thing—a harmless show of confidence, perhaps—but then he declares that God has told him to expel all Asians (mostly Indians) from Uganda, a racist act that devastates the country's economy. Eventually, even Garrigan can no longer avoid the fact that Amin is responsible for a series of utterly barbaric atrocities—and by then, Garrigan is basically trapped and afraid for his own life.