The Devil's Double
Director : Lee Tamahori
Screenplay : Michael Thomas (based on the book by Latif Yahia)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2011
Stars : Dominic Cooper (Uday Hussein / Latif Yahia), Ludivine Sagnier (Sarrab), Raad Rawi (Munem), Philip Quast (Saddam Hussein / Faoaz), Mimoun Oaïssa (Ali), Khalid Laith (Yassem Al-Helou), Dar Salim (Azzam), Nasser Memarzia (Latif’s Father), Mem Ferda (Kamel Hannah), Pano Masti (Said), Akin Gazi (Saad), Stewart Scudamore (Father of School Girl), Amrita Acharia (School Girl), Elektra Anastasi (School Girl 2), Amber Rose Revah (Bride), Selva Rasalingam (Rokan)
Even the most devout of secularists who make sense of the worst forms of human behavior in terms of psychopathology and misfiring synapses will have a hard time resisting the use of the term “evil” to describe Uday Hussein, the oldest of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s two sons. Vilified as the most hated man in Iraq, Uday’s privileged reign of terror lasted for the better part of two decades, from the mid-1980s until he was killed by U.S. Special Forces in 2003, as he tortured football players who didn’t live up to national expectations, murdered associates who threatened his ego, and regularly kidnapped and raped young girls, sometimes killing them if they spoke of his crimes. The laundry list of assaults against humanity perpetrated by this one man is voluminous and, in many respects, the stuff of legend, and Latif Yahia was on the front row for much of it.
Latif had the dual misfortune of looking strikingly similar to Uday and having gone to school with him. Thus, when Uday needed a “fiday,” someone to stand in for him at public appearances and absorb any potential assassination attempts, he remembered Latif, pulled him from his military duties in the Iran-Iraq War in the late 1980s, and forced him to live in his shadow and impersonate him when needed. There were benefits, of course, to being a wealthy, powerful madman’s double: Everything that was Uday’s was also Latif’s, including his enormous mansions, his hundreds of luxury cars, his enormous wardrobe of designer duds, and his largely nocturnal, hedonistic lifestyle of parties, nightclubbing, and orgies. A wanton, constantly inebriated sexual deviant with no oversight save his dictator-father’s disgust, Uday was a primal force, an amalgam of all the worst human tendencies multiplied to heinous proportions.
The Devil’s Double, which is based on the memoir Latif penned in the mid-1990s after escaping from Iraq, takes us right inside the maelstrom of Uday’s existence from Latif’s tortured perspective. Both characters are played by British actor Dominic Cooper, who was last seen as the industrialist Howard Stark in Captain America: The First Avenger. With a set of protruding front teeth and a leering grin, Cooper’s Uday is like an even more twisted Joker, truly sickening because he was real. As Latif, he wears an air of exhausted compliance, trudging through his duties with an increasing sense of moral revulsion that he must constantly keep in check lest he become the object of Uday’s often murderous rage (the fact that Uday refers to him as “his brother” and says he will never let him go because he loves him too much makes their relationship feel all the more dangerous). When Latif must impersonate Uday, all he need do is put in false teeth and act like an unleashed maniac, yet we feel the desperation in his performance; he’s a man playing the worst possible person and hating himself for it.
Director Lee Tamahori, best known for helming slick action movies like Die Another Day (2002) and Next (2007) once he moved to Hollywood following his powerful New Zealand debut Once Were Warriors (1994), doesn’t shy away from the gruesome details in Michael Thomas’s screenplay, many of which are actually downplayed from other reports I have read (at one point Uday literally guts one of Saddam’s buddies at a party, and later he rapes a bride on her wedding day). Yet, at times Tamahori’s visuals feel a bit too polished and refined, which gives the film a glossy veneer that is at odds with the atrocities on-screen (the cinematography is by Sam McCurdy, a regular collaborator with horror maven Neil Marshall). And, while Thomas’s screenplay sticks close to the facts as reported by Yatif, he makes two major departures, both of which are to the film’s detriment: The first is Yatif’s completely unengaging illicit romance with Uday’s favorite girlfriend (Ludivine Sagnier), while the other is a third-act bit of historical “What if?” that turns an assassination attempt into a dramatic catharsis that feels too easy and formulated. After having been drug through Yatif’s personal hell and back there is certainly a desire to see some kind of retribution for what Uday hath wrought, but the film’s historical revisionism at this point is a cheap last-minute jab at audience relief that feels woefully inadquate.
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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