by Mel Valentin
Uday Hussein, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Husseinís eldest son (and one-time heir before Udayís erratic behavior and injuries from an assassination attempt relegated him to the No. 2 spot behind second son Qusay), may be dead and buried (or dead and cremated), executed with Qusay by U.S. Special Forces in Mosul, Iraq, four months after the 2003 invasion by the United States and its European allies, but his spirit lingers almost a decade later. Udayís spirit doesnít linger in any real and/or physical way, of course, but in "The Devilís Double," director Lee Tamahoriís ("Die Another Day," "The Edge, "Once Were Warriors") excessive, overblown, over-the-top thriller freely based on the monstrous life and evil times of Uday Hussein and his ďfiday,Ē his double, Latif Yahia (a career-best performance by British actor Dominic Cooper).True to Tamahori and screenwriter Michael Thomasí free associative approach, The Devilís Double presumably opens in the late 1980s. Tamahori doesnít give moviegoers an actual date, but from the events onscreen, itís clear that the Iraq-Iran War that consumed the 1980s, devastating both countries, hasnít ended. Latif Yahia, a decorated war veteran (the real Latif never served on the frontlines), barely escapes with his life after the Iranians attack a border outpost. For Latif, itís the last war action heíll see. Uday summons Latif to Baghdad. Almost immediately, Uday, first-born son of Saddam (Philip Quast), demands Latif become his fiday. Latif, wary of losing his identity along with his freedom, initially refuses, but Uday, taking a page from The Godfather or Scarface, the latter an acknowledged by Tamahori as an influence on The Devilís Double, makes Latif an offer he canít refuse: become Udayís fiday or Uday will murder Latifís family.
"Career-best performance by Dominic Cooper undermined by campy material."
Once he agrees to become Udayís double, Latif undergoes plastic surgery to minimize or eliminate physical differences (e.g., Latifís nose, eyes, and teeth). He also receives voice and gesture training to make Latifís impersonation of Uday all but imperceptible, including Udayís confidantes, staff, and his father. Latif also gets some perks, including a wardrobe upgrade, and access to Udayís homes and cars. Latif freely enjoys the comfortable existence Uday offers him, but heís also a witness, albeit a passive witness, a passive protagonist (a problem discussed below), often against his will, to Udayís increasingly barbaric behavior. Uday is a cruel, arbitrary despot-in-training, hated and feared in equal measure. Uday has taken the dictum that ďitís better to be hated than lovedĒ to heart, metaphorically speaking, of course, as ďheartĒ isnít a word that should be used in the same sentence with Uday (real or fictional).
A sociopath, whether by nature or nurture (or more likely, both), Uday takes pleasure in torturing athletes who failed to meet his expectations, in kidnapping teenage girls and sexually abusing them, and in otherwise terrorizing everyone and anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. Latif becomes enamored with one of Udayís many mistresses, Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), increasing the risk to life and limb if Uday discovers his interest in Sarrab. Sarrab, however, seems to offer Latif his one and only chance at normality.
The Devilís Double contains obligatory lesson for moviegoers, none of them subtle, all of them obvious. Tamahori obviously believes that monsters (Saddam) beget monsters (Uday), despots (Saddam again) beget (future) despots (Uday again). Absolute power, especially absolute power inherited, corrupts absolutely (as if you didnít know that already). Tamahori, however, spends most of the running time repeating the same scenario with sensationalistic variations meant to shock, repulse, and disgust. Tamahori succeeds at that particular goal, but never digs further into Udayís background or upbringing, assuming Udayís connection to an infamous Middle Eastern dictator provides moviegoers with sufficient rationale. That Qusay (played by Jamie Harding), raised under the exact same circumstances, didnít share Udayís personality defects goes unexamined by Tamahori and Thomas.Of course, digging into Udayís psycho-pathology isnít among Tamahoriís goals here. He starts from a premise, ďUday is a monster with absolute power,Ē and illustrates that premise through a variety of atrocities. He also wants us, as moviegoers, to sympathize, empathize, and identify with Latif, but runs into the aforementioned problem: As Udayís virtual prisoner, Latif is a passive protagonist until the third act where Tamahori throws out verifiable facts for "Bourne"-style theatrics. To be fair, the third actís pyrotechnics donít come as a surprise, not when the tone in "The Devilís Double" veers early on into exploitation and camp and never returns. Ultimately, "The Devilís Doubleís" story- and character-based flaws consistently undermine Dominic Cooperís intensely compelling, consistently enthralling performance. Cooperís talents deserved better. Then again, so did we.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=21811&reviewer=402
originally posted: 08/06/11 02:00:00