Itâ€™s unfortunate that filmmakers feel the need to inject a white protagonist into any film exploring a non-Anglo culture. Want to make a film about 19th century Japanese Samurai? Okay, but there had better be a role for Tom Cruise in it. (See â€œThe Last Samurai.â€ Or actually donâ€™t.) The African diamond trade and its role in funding murderous rebel groups? Okay, but I better spend most of the film looking into Leonardo DiCaprioâ€™s dreamy, blue eyes. (â€œBlood Diamond.â€)
In â€œThe Last King of Scotland,â€ we are treated to a biopic of the infamous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin as seen through the dreamy, blue eyes of fictional, Scottish doctor, Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy).
Making a white character the focal point of a film about an African dictator is particularly ill-advised, given that it distracts from one of the greatest performances of last year. Forest Whitakerâ€™s volcanic depiction of Amin synthesizes all the infamous dictatorâ€™s many contradictory facets (magnetic statesman, charming frat boy, petulant child, genocidal maniac) into one coherent whole; Whitaker makes the monster a man. Itâ€™s a shame; Whitaker really deserved his own movie.
Instead of focusing on Amin and his effect on his country and his people, the film focuses on Aminâ€™s effect on the life of a fictional, rich kid from Scotland. When we first see Nicholas, the fun-loving young physician is on his way to work at a clinic in Uganda. On the bus trip in, he meets and seduces a beautiful, African woman, then arrives at the clinic and attempts to seduce a beautiful doctorâ€™s wife (played by an utterly wasted Gillian Anderson).
After Nicholas gives medical assistance to Amin after a car accident, the dictator invites Nicholas to be his personal physician and trusted adviser. At first, Nicholas has the time of his life, playing Dean to Aminâ€™s Frank and spending his days at pool parties and his nights at jazz clubs. However, when Amin becomes increasingly unstable, Nicholas decides that summer camp is over and informs Amin that he wants to go home.
When the paranoid dictator refuses to let him leave, Nicholas does what any rational person would do: he begins an affair with Aminâ€™s wife. Which presents the stirring question, can the white doctor and his hot African mistress escape Amin? Eventually Nicholas learns an important lesson: Africa has many difficult problems and is not just a playground for white guys with entitlement issues.
The fact that 300,000 Africans were being systematically exterminated while this soap opera is playing out is relegated to a thirty-second montage and an end credits crawl. While the filmmakers may argue that a white protagonist is the â€œteaspoon of sugarâ€ that helps American audiences swallow the medicine that is third world stories, there comes a time when too much sugar can turn a film into junk food.