A Biography is someone’s life story. It’s more than just a profile of events. It usually contains details of the person’s experiences and may also include analysis of the subject’s actions, personality, etc. But biographies can be tricky! They are considered nonfiction; however, they can be very subjective depending on who is writing them, or if they are authorized or not.
In The Last King of Scotland we have a biopic about two people: Idi Amin, the third president of Uganda (or dictator depending on who is asked) and the man who became his personal physician, Dr. Nicholas Garrigan. It’s an interesting telling in that we get one man’s life story through the telling of another man’s life story. Interesting perspective.
Amin himself was a complex man, and was portrayed as such in the film by Forest Whitaker, a performance which garnered him an Academy Award for best performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in 2007. Garrigan, played by James McAvoy, is also a deceptively complex person who endeared himself to Amin and became his personal physician as well as political advisor to a man whose rule was associated with human rights abuses, ethnic persecution, corruption, nepotism, extrajudicial killings, and political repression.
With our psycho’s I like to look at how they are created and in this film it’s a different approach. The audience is seduced by Amin the same way Garrigan is. Our first impression is one of power and hope. After that he’s charming and asks Garrigan to switch shirts with him when he sees him wearing a Scotland T-shirt. Amin sees something in Garrigan as well when he decisively takes Amin’s gun to kill a suffering cow in an emergency. The two make an impression on each other as well as the viewer, but we have the hindsight of history and while Garrigan may not be as famous as his cinematic counterpart, it’s through his eyes that we’re seeing this story.
At times it seems unbelievable that someone so close to Amin did not know about the atrocities of his regime. But that’s how it’s played in the film. Amin goes from benevolence to terrifying dictator within seconds. But like man politicians, he is ultimately more concerned about his position than that of his country. Extremely paranoid, mercurial, and troubled, Amin mood swings were notorious. Garrigan sums it up well when he tells Amin, "You're a child. You have the mind and ego of an angry, spoiled, uneducated child. And that's what makes you so fucking scary." Scary, indeed.
Based on the book by Giles Foden who also appears in the movie.