Having previously helmed the non-fictional One Day in September and semi-documentary Touching the Void, director Kevin MacDonald now makes the leap into full-fledged dramatic filmmaking – while nonetheless retaining his interest in historical subject matter – with The Last King of Scotland, an “inspired by true events” tale of young Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), who travels to Uganda in the early ‘70s and inadvertently becomes the physician of, and “closest advisor” to, genocidal maniac Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker). As scripted by Jeremy Brock (based on Giles Foden’s novel), it’s a story of arrogant, egotistical naiveté shattered, tracing Garrigan’s transformation from devil-may-care Scottish boy – who, in an effort to flee the dreary life mapped out for him by his parents, decides to visit Uganda by spinning a globe and blindly choosing a country at random – to disenchanted man hardened by his horrifying experiences with the country’s ruthless dictator. Creaky as this narrative arc often proves (especially considering Amin and Garrigan’s surrogate father-son bond), and as squandered as Gillian Anderson and Kerry Washington are as Garrigan’s love interests, the film profits immensely from Whitaker’s force-of-nature performance, the actor embodying the notorious Amin as a charmingly garrulous giant whose friendliness masked consuming paranoia and homicidal madness. Yet what chiefly elevates The Last King of Scotland above its modest plot construction and bestows on it a manic, sweaty intensity is MacDonald’s consistently canny direction, with his pseudo-verité cinematography imparting an intimate sense of the beautiful-but-treacherous Uganda and his electric zooms into close-up capturing Amin’s imposing presence. Best of all, however, is the final juxtaposition of an overly quixotic (and clichéd) image of young smiling Africans running alongside a plane with McAvoy’s bruised and disillusioned countenance, a poignant point-counterpoint that functions as a stinging rebuke to both do-gooder white-man’s-burden fantasies and the disingenuous, Africa-exoticizing movies (The Constant Gardener, this means you) that promote them.