DVD Review The Devil's Double
Belgium/Netherlands 2011. Cert 18. 104 mins. Dir: Lee Tamahori. Cast: Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier, Raad Rawl
DVD Review: The Devil's Double
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Plucked straight from the front lines during the late 1980s, Iraqi Lieutenant Latif Yahia is given the questionable honour of acting as Saddam Hussein’s sadistic son’s body double. Tamahori’s examination of what it means to be a double uses Yahia’s novels I Was Saddam’s Son and The Devil’s Double as loose source material.
Working alongside a writer (Michael Thomas) who is no stranger to fictional accounts of partly-factual events (The Night We Called It A Day, Backbeat), the Die Another Day director uses real footage of live combat and Saddam Hussein to place the film in its time and contrast with the opulent life Uday Hussein lives.
We’re first introduced to Uday when Latif is summoned to his office and met by a near-naked girl strutting her stuff. Uday quickly establishes himself as without morals and somewhat sexually preoccupied when he asks Latif: “How’s your sister - the one with the big tits? The one I wanted to fuck?”
Both from the same school year and often confused by their peers, Latif and Uday resemble each other enough to fool the majority and a few small alterations will sort out the rest. Although Uday at first pretends to give Latif a choice, the reality is the words “sleep on it” mean in a prison cell and failure to agree will result in his family being assassinated.
Well aware that accepting the job means “extinguishing [himself]” and losing all contact with his family, faced with little choice Latif begins his transformation. This is where The Devil’s Double really starts to become interesting as we watch Latif’s caretaker, Munem, training him to chant to himself “I’m Uday Hussein”, a medical examination witnessed on surveillance by Uday, the acquisition of “build-up shoes” to match Uday’s height, lessons in Uday’s life story and Latif practising his new identity. Most shocking of all is Uday’s suggestion that Latif will require a penis reduction because he is well-known with the ladies and Latif’s gift of Saddam’s personal torture videos with each victim calmly introduced.
Playing both Uday and Latif, Dominic Cooper is finally given the meaty career-defining lead role he’s been waiting for and he ably rises to the challenge. As Uday he’s larger than life, swinging between extremes – the vulnerable weakling and the crazed masochist who is ironically paranoid “some fucked-up scum” might shoot him. At times he’s fiercely patriotic (“I am my father’s son - I’d give my last drop of blood for Iraq”) and at others more concerned with getting his own way: “Allah gives me nothing – everything I want, I just take for myself.” True to his word, we’re shown Uday cruising for young girls outside the school gates, raping a newlywed bride, dumping corpses of girls still in training bras, and chopping up and gutting Saddam’s aide, Kamel Hannah.
When Uday isn’t hanging around glistening swimming pools with armed guards, scantily-clad girls and cocktails, sniffing coke or forcing his guests to strip down at a hedonistic party, he’s snuggling up to his mum. We’re shown a failed suicide attempt he makes, with Saddam nearly finishing off the job in anger. His gleeful reactions to having a body double (“two peas in a pod”) do indeed support his courtesan Sarrab’s appraisal of him: “He’s a child. One day he’ll tire of me and I’ll end up with the fishes at the bottom of the lake.”
Excitable reactions to seeing Latif on TV giving an anti-Kuwait speech on his behalf also highlight his childlike wonder. The best illustration of his totally cocooned upbringing is seen when American news footage and shots of bombings are interspersed with Uday threatening a doctor to save Latif’s little finger so he doesn’t have to lose one too.
While they may look alike, Latif and Uday couldn’t be more different. Unlike his performance as Uday, Cooper’s Latif is much more subtle and brooding. After being tortured for a failed attempt to contact his family, Latif realises the importance of mastering his Uday impression, managing to deceive Saddam himself and reportedly surviving 11 assassination attempts (we’re only shown two in the film). Unlike Uday, Latif has the guts to stand up for what he believes in and distinguish right from wrong, slitting his own wrists rather than killing a man.
Tamahori does a wonderful job of bringing Baghdad to life with colourful market scenes, celebratory gunfire and evidence of more decadent lifestyles, including a fantastic moment when we’re shown Saddam and his double playing tennis together. Tamahori’s The Devil’s Double seems to have little political agenda, instead mixing gangster movie elements with the story of one man’s struggle to survive without breaching his moral code. Although Latif’s story is glorified and embellished to give it a Hollywood style makeover, Tamahori clearly places the film in the context of the build-up to the Gulf War and Cooper undeniably gives a truly mesmerising performance, presenting us with both sides of the coin, as hero and villain.
The Devil’s Double is out now on DVD (Icon Home Entertainment)
Posted on Tuesday 10th January 2012
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