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The Last King of Scotland
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this movie is based on the real life of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and includes references to massacres, revenge killings, torture, and abuse. Some scenes depict such violence explicitly, including bloody bodies, shooting, knifing, and grisly torture. There are also some scenes of sexual activity, including a one-night liaison between the protagonist and an unknown woman and the protagonist's dangerous adulterous affair. Women appear in revealing or little clothing (some dancers are topless). Characters use foul language (especially "f--k") in anger. It's the 1970s, so characters also drink liquor and smoke cigarettes as emblems of class comfort.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Newly minted doctor Nicholas (James McAvoy) avoids going into practice with his father by traveling to Uganda, where he imagines he can "make a difference" and have an adventure. When Nicholas is invited to serve as president Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker)'s personal physician, he imagines that he'll get excitement, access, and a chance to "do good" with the new resources at the hospital in Kampala. But Amin's reign quickly turns violent (he kills anyone he deems an enemy and expels 50,000 Asians from Uganda), and Nicholas watches the action and pretends that Amin isn't responsible. The doctor goes so far as to justify his own errors in judgment: He wants to look after Amin's wife Kay (Kerry Washington), currently on the outside because her son is epileptic. As Amin becomes visibly (or more consistently) psychotic and paranoid, Nicholas begins to fear for his own safety.
Is it any good?
Harrowing and provocative, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND traces the rise of Idi Amin by taking the perspective of the young Scottish doctor. While the device could seem hackneyed, it's instructive here, for the film never lets viewers forget that the doctor comes to Africa to "play the white man," as Amin puts it, careless and self-indulgent.
As a metaphor, the fictional Nicholas makes clear the insidious means by which the West, and -- in particular -- the Caucasian West, exploits and abuses its privilege in other nations. While The Last King of Scotland makes Nicholas pay dearly and repeatedly for his vanity and willful ignorance, it also encourages your investment in his plight. Still, the fact that Nicholas -- however inadvertently, however much he seems a victim -- is also capable of great horrors (he lets others perform them, then judges them), makes him even more troubling than Amin. He should have known better.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the cycles of violence that afflict developing nations. How are these cycles supported by outsider money and exploitation of resources? Who's to blame for what happens in these cases? Families can also talk about the story of Amin, a former heavyweight boxer and British colonial army sergeant who declared himself president of Uganda following a military coup and ruled for eight years. What effect does having a fictional character tell his story have on the movie and what viewers take away from it?
- In theaters: September 27, 2006
- On DVD or streaming: April 17, 2007
- Cast: Forest Whitaker, James McAvoy, Kerry Washington
- Director: Kevin Macdonald
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 121 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some strong violence and gruesome images, sexual content and language.
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