Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Devil's Double


Uday Hussein was a monster.  The world knew this before he was killed, but after seeing The Devil’s Double, the world has a good reminder just how horrible of a man he was.  Uday would patrol the Baghdad streets in his sports car, kidnap school girls, rape them, murder them, and then have his goons dispose of the bodies.  Nothing would ever happen to him because he hid behind daddy, Saddam Hussein.  It appears he had no conscience; he proudly maintained videos of torture sessions, especially from underperforming Iraqi Olympic athletes.  There are particular scenes in this film depicting crude torture techniques which are quite gut wrenching for the audience.
Dominic Cooper plays the dual role of Uday Hussein and the man ‘taken’ to be his body double, Latif Yahia.  Cooper seamlessly disappears into these two separate men.  He plays Uday with a high pitched voice, forever animated and crazy-eyed.  Latif is laconic, thoughtful, and deeply troubled by the events occurring around him.  This movie is based on actual events as written by Latif Yahia himself.  Uday and Latif were classmates and later on, Uday remembers their similarities and has Latif plucked from the Iran/Iraq battlefield.  This was not a job recommendation either; Latif either would become Uday’s double or he and his family would be tortured and executed. 
Latif could now enjoy all of Uday’s luxuries, except his women.  The inevitable involvement with a woman Latif should not have been socializing with is the film’s one weak spot.  Ludivine Sagnier plays Sarrab, a woman who Uday plucked from a club once and has yet to release from his grasp.  Sagnier has starred in high quality work in the past both with Swimming Pool and 8 Women, but Sarrab’s character does not fit very well here.  The Devil’s Double is about the relationship between Uday Hussein and Latif Yahia with the background of the first Persian Gulf War and Latif’s desperate attempts to deal with the crumbling situation.  There is not very much room from Sagnier and her character more often than not just gets in the way of what should be the central theme.  For example, during the Baghdad bombing in the opening days of the 1991 war, instead of showing what Uday was doing or where he was hiding, the audience gets a scene between Latif and Sarrab.  This was the wrong choice for both the screenwriter and director to make.
The director, Lee Tamahori, is a veteran action film director with credits including a James Bond film, Die Another Day, and other sporadic attempts with Along Came A Spider and the xXx sequel.  This is not an action film though.  It is a tough, psychological thriller and Tamahori does an admirable job with it except from the previously mentioned scene.  The writer, Michal Thomas, has been around a long time but his work is mostly unknown except for his Ladyhawke screenplay and an episode of the Crash television series.  He has adapted Latif Yahia’s own novel and has done a forthright job of it. 
Thank goodness Latif’s novel was adapted for the big screen.  One will read in the newspaper occasionally that Iraqi citizens miss Saddam Hussein’s regime because at least the country was more stable than it is now and they had electricity and employment.  When those thoughts spring up, they should be required to watch The Devil’s Double to remind them of the insanity their country has moved away from. 

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