Working from Giles Foden's novel, Kevin Macdonald gives a trenchant edge to The Last King of Scotland even if the plotting begins to slip from the documentary-like realism so intriguingly established.
Starring Forest Whitaker and James McAvoy, the intelligent, often wry script by Jeremy Brock and Peter Morgan ("The Queen") fictionalizes political turmoil in Africa that brings together a restless Scottish doctor (Dr. Garrigan) and the omnipotent Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.
A feeling for time and place is captured with subtle verisimilitude and visual aplomb, but not leaving the characters on the sidelines. Whitaker has fashioned a meaty role into a seductive ferocity, hardly resorting into major grandstanding of such a scary, imposing role. It goes beyond mimicry as McAvoy's physician is drawn into Amin as a confidante. McAvoy peels away layers of his character in a situation which compromises his tenets, as well as his life.
Perhaps the liberties taken with actual events does more for the performers at the expense of the overrall impact of the picture, but the tone, mainly self-imposed from the explosive, gleeful malevolence of Amin, beats with a powder-keg misery.
The commitment in Whitaker's ability to elicit the unpredictably monstrous allows McAvoy to give a more deeply felt, if heartfelt performance. Kerry Washington as one of Amin's seductive wives longs for what the increasingly raw Dr. Garrigan can give her. More effective backup comes from Simon McBurney as a cynically bright, yet unsavory British official, and Gillian Anderson (X-Files) as a doctor's wife, with both attuned to the growing despair, from a personal and political standpoint.
Macdonald works strikingly with his crew, filming mostly in Africa, to convey some startling issues, giving it historical relevance, as Whitaker towers with ruthlessness as a strange relationship expediently takes hold during The Last King of Scotland.