Title: The Devil’s Double
Director: Lee Tamahori
Starring: Dominic Cooper, Philip Quast, Ludivine Sagnier, Mimoun Oaissa, Raad Rawi, Mem Ferda, Dar Salim, Khalid Laith, Pano Masti, Nasser Memarzia, Tiziana Azzpardi, Akin Gazi, Amrita Acharia
Plot: Iraq 1987, Latif Yahia (Cooper) a soldier finds himself recuited to become a “Fedal” (body double” for Uday Hussein (also Cooper) the son of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (Quast).
Review: Lee Tamahori is hardly a director who springs up on anyone’s favourite director list, despite memorably launching his directing career with the powerful “Once Were Warriors” it's been a series of disappointments which followed in its wake while he managed to single handily kill both the “XXX” franchise (not even Wilem Dafoe could save that sequel) and for awhile the “James Bond” franchise with the disappointing series tribute “Die Another Day” while the less said about “Next” the better really. Needless to say I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film, while sees Tamahori moving away from action cinema and back to his drama roots.
While it might claim to be based on a true story, the facts have been frequently disputed since the film’s release, mainly due to lack any actual evidence that Latif Yahia had any connection to Uday Hussein let alone the kind of access to the higher levels of Saddam’s regime as the film depicts. This however does not stop it from being a fascinating story and a highly enjoyable one to boot thanks largely to the phenomenal double act pulled by Cooper as both Latif and Uday. At the same time Latif and Uday are fascinating characters in their own respects with Latif being forced into new role as a Fedal, rather than willingly excepting the role with his first refusal seeing him imprisoned and tortured and ultimately only agrees to take on the role after being informed that his family will be tortured and killed if he doesn’t agree. It is an almost begrudging sense of duty which he takes on the role. Uday on the other hand lives a “Scarface” style lifestyle thanks to the unlimited wealth and power he is afforded as the son of Saddam. At the same time he also enjoys a highly deviant lifestyle of hovering up vast quantities of cocaine, picking up school girls of the street and frequently being prone of burst of psychotic violence which it would seem is none too different than his real life counterpart.
Much like “Scarface” this is equally a film with a focus on gross excess both in terms of wealth aswell as in violence as Latif frequently bears witness to Uday’s life as a playboy gangster which he in turn he is forced to become a part of , while Uday views him as his brother and an object he has created while deluding himself into thinking that he has control over Latif, even though Latif is constantly looking for a way out which won’t endanger his face who have been left believing that he has been killed in the war. While the main focus on the story might be on this thread like bond between Latif and Uday, the film also takes time to follow the relationship between Latif and his advisor let alone the closest thing he has to a friend inside of the regime Munem (Rawi) who like Latif is equally disgusted by what he is forced to bar witness to yet at the same time continues his duties with a sense of grim numbness. At the same time he is frequently a source of sound advice for Latif even if you’re never sure were his loyalty truly lies, more so when he never seems to really side with either party throughout the course of the film.
Still if things are not complex enough a further twist is thrown into the mix with Sarrab (Sagnier), Uday’s lover and the one person who could prove to the breaking point in the fragile arrangement between Latif and Uday as she soon starts showing an interest in Latif with the two soon carrying on a relationship in secret. This however like so many aspects of the film was seemingly included in the more fictional elements which have drawn most of the criticism for the film especially when so much of the film can’t be proven or would appear to have been based on real life events such as the jealous slaying of Saddam’s bodyguard Kamel Hana (Ferda) by an enraged Uday.
The other criticism about the film is the levels of violence which while sporadic frequently burst into cartoonish levels of gore as with the aforementioned killing of Kamel Hana while providing yet another reason to compare it to “Scarface”. At the same time the violence is never excessively over used and often feels in context even if the tone of the film is far from the serious biographical film that I think a lot of the detractors were expecting it to be.
Unlike his more recent output Tamahori here proves that he can still craft a gripping drama even if falls more between the worlds of his brutally dark debut and the more action orientated later latter films. This is still a great film and even while it might be factually questionable in places, its strong characters and visual styling which includes a memorable scene of Saddam playing tennis against his double this film gives us hope that he’s still capable of producing memorable cinema, while at the time of writing it remains to be seen if he continues on this track or returns to more mainstream fare.