Monday, 22 August 2011

The Devil's Double [Review]

Saddam Hussein, President of Iraq from 1979-2003, was widely condemned for the brutality of his dictatorship in an international sense; in particular, the events in Kuwait and the Gulf War in the early 1990s gave considerable wake to such cries. But this is a familiar tale to tell: much less is known of Saddam’s family and personal life. In comes The Devil’s Double, an exposé of the tyrannical ruler’s eldest and, for a time, favourite of his offspring, Uday.

I say ‘for a time’, because, as The Devil’s Double shows, Uday was not the sanest of men. Erratic, intolerant, feuding and paranoid, Saddam’s firstborn frequently fell out of favour with his father, and thus the backbone of the film’s plot: the life of Uday Hussein, and all the horrors in which it was entwined - and hence the titular label of ‘Devil’. The double is Latif Yahia, with both characters played by an exquisite Dominic Cooper - playing against himself, in two fundamentally oppositional roles, Cooper excels in convincing as both the reserved, moral Yahia and the deranged, childish Uday.

The film essentially tells Yahia’s story; handpicked and forced to become a ‘fiday’ (body double or political decoy) for Uday, Latif soon realises his doppelganger’s sadistic, power-hungry tendencies and seeks a way out. The tale is frantic, but never feels rushed.

Director Lee Tamahori’s most famous credit might perhaps be James Bond film Die Another Day (2002), though he might not wish it to be. One of the less well received Bond films, the last of Pierce Brosnan’s 007 outings was criticised for its lack of plot, relying instead on ‘gadgets and special effects’. For a director whose next film was the sequel to xXx, this might hardly be considered surprising. But The Devil’s Double is something of a coming-of-age film for the New Zealander: a more sensitive and hard-hitting subject, a more plot- and character-driven piece, and an altogether more removed picture from the brazen, loaded guns of Hollywood. Intense direction and cinematography - with an atmospheric and insightful depiction of early 90s Iraq - here combine to exemplify some of Tamahori’s best work.

The screenplay and scriptwriting show greater strengths still; the depiction of Uday as the childish persona that he never left behind - from his excitement at forcing two of his female ‘companions’ to kiss, to cowering in his chair when being reprimanded by his father - is remarkable, yet suitably apt, and at all times persevered with fine results. All that can be expressed for Uday is sheer loathing; while in such a sense being slightly one-dimensional - there’s no remorseful depth to the character - the representation helps to fortify the struggle of the story’s central character Latif.

If I were to fault The Devil’s Double, however, it would be on its over-reliance on shock imagery; while this might be considered necessary to expose the full terrors that Uday Hussein committed in his life, the filmmakers simply seem intent on topping each brutal act of criminality with a yet more horrific one moments later. The result is that by the credits we’re left so emotionally drained it’s difficult to appreciate just what we’re being shown - and oftentimes we’ll forget that the story is actually supposed to be focused on Yahia.

But, of course, what we are being shown is a real-life horror story; the murderous, victimising and bullying tirades of a man engrossed in his inner-child, a man so engaged within his own small world that he knows no social implications of his actions. At times, The Devil’s Double feels like it’s only concentrating on Satan himself, but what we’re really witnessing is the exposure of such horrors to not just our consciousness, but to the consciousness of the people Uday ruled - not least of which is the man forced to do his bidding, and in essence become him.

The Devil’s Double is a tale of turmoil in Iraq, and a harrowing one at that. Not for the faint-hearted, nor the faint-minded, but still a finely directed piece of cinema that does its job, if with a little too much vulgarity.


See also: Lord of War (2005) 

Dir: Lee Tamahori
Cast: Dominic Cooper, Philip Quast, Ludivine Sagnier
Corsan/Staccato Films, 109 mins, 10/08/11

Synopsis: Latif Yahia (Cooper) is forced to become a body double for Uday (also Cooper), son of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (Quast). In a world of corruption, lies and greed, who to trust becomes a matter of life and death for Latif, as he seeks a way out of his lifeless, immoral existence... 


Post a Comment