Who knew that the gentle, thoughtful Forest Whitaker could channel one of the great beasts of history? He did. As producer Andrea Calderwood recalls, Whitaker told her, ”You’d be surprised. There’s a lot…of Idi in me.” The most startling aspect of The Last King of Scotland — the reason the actor deserves his Oscar — is that Idi Amin Dada, the butcher of 1970s Uganda, becomes life-size but no less vicious in Whitaker’s portrayal. Driven by childish fears and strutting egotism, the character is both a worst-case scenario of African leadership and a figure of oddball anticolonial pride. Whitaker’s quite a sight…and he’s pretty much all the film has going for it. Director Kevin Macdonald made the fine mountain-climbing semidocumentary Touching the Void, but here he’s stuck with a dud lead character in the young Scottish doctor (James McAvoy) who becomes Amin’s increasingly terrified confidant, a wide-eyed prat about whom it’s difficult to care.
Thus, King’s a movie without a compelling reason to exist — other than to remind audiences that Amin himself existed and to warn against future demagogues. The disc’s extras underscore that: While Macdonald’s director’s commentary spends a little too much time rhapsodizing about costar Kerry Washington’s naked rear end, a 30-minute making-of doc provides footage and an invaluable history lesson on the real Amin and why he still haunts the country he once ruled. B-