dir: Lee Tamahori
Jesus Christ, or maybe by the grace of Allah, this Uday Hussein was a sick fuck!
I remember the stories from back in the day, around the time of the first Iraqi Adventure, where the tales of Saddam’s sons being monsters were coming out, and I just thought, “Eh, they’re just being mean.”
And then the many and varied stories of what a demented sociopath he was, to the extent where he shamed his own tyrant of a father, slaughterer of innocents and torturer of people who disagreed with him, and there was little doubt.
Of the many controversies regarding the second Iraqi Adventure Part II in 2003, one of the only aspects that has never troubled me were the reports of the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein. See, in my limited knowledge and understanding of history, and especially history as it applies to people, the only monsters often worse than the despots and tyrants who seize power in bloody times and rule their people with an iron fist caked in shit, are their sons.
See, Saddam was as bad if not worse than everything ever said about him, obvious even to someone who’s village didn’t have nerve gas dropped on it. But he’s the one who seized power. He’s the one who maintained complicated social – tribal – regional ties intact in order to maintain his steely grip on power. He’s the one who earned the fear that his name invoked. He’s the one who sent people to Abu Ghraib to be tortured to death, who invaded Kuwait, who started the war with Iran and sent a millions souls to their doom. He earned the fear his name engendered.
Shitbirds like his sons, bored feckless fuckwits, got away with all their numerous, icky crimes against their own people, worked only on their sense of unique entitlement, and exhibited no control over their own impulses because their father’s power kept everyone else in check.
As Saddam is said to have had a whole bunch of impersonators intended to throw off potential assassins and such, so, too, is Uday said to have had his own double.
One of my favourite scenes of the flick involves this double of Uday’s called Latif (both roles exceptionally well played by Dominic Cooper), who is never a happy man, and never has any reason to be happy, watching a tennis game between two tall, portly gentlemen, identically dressed in tennis gear. They play, quite well for men their size, they end the set by embracing, kissing on the cheek in the Middle Eastern style, and then change ends.
Both tennis players are Saddam Hussein.
This isn’t a metaphysical exploration of the dualistic sides of human nature, although maybe it plays something of a role. A man, presumably a good man called Latif, is forced after torture, and at the threat of having his parents and sisters killed, to become a full time stand in for Uday Hussein. He has no choice, no escape, no recourse. It would not be fair to say that he immerses himself in a lifestyle he otherwise would never have been privy to.
He looks, at all times deeply disturbed about the position he finds himself in. In fact, you could say that temperament-wise, and intelligence-wise, he is the complete opposite of Uday.
And what a piece of work is Uday! What a funny looking piece of shit he is. With his weedy high-pitched voice, and his protruding overbite, he looks like a rat that’s grown too tall and upright for its own good. Latif looks as much like him as any person can, since it’s the same actor, but they still give him plastic surgery, dentures and lifts in his shoes in order to complete the illusion.
The one thing they don’t do is change his hairstyle, so we can tell them apart.
What Uday really wants is to fuck himself, but that would be too creepy. So the next best thing is trying to terrorise Latif into loving him, by routinely threatening him and telling him that he loves him, that he’s his brother. So instead of getting it on with Latif, he forces him to be complicit in his many, many crimes.
Dominic Cooper plays Uday like an overgrown child who’s constantly craving attention and absolutely will not countenance anything else but getting his way. This doesn’t just restrict itself to getting the right table at a restaurant or getting people to move out of the road when he’s driving. Mostly it has to do with his sexual and violent impulses, which are often the same thing, so the distinction is tautological.
Dominic Cooper plays Latif like a decent man who’s desperate to escape, living in an impossible situation. He is deeply disturbed by having to be complicit in Uday’s life, which is one long crime, but mostly he just cannot figure out how to escape without getting everyone he cares about tortured, raped and killed. It’s also a terrible burden to share the same face as such a monster, and even to have to pretend to be him, to yell with his high-pitched screech at public events, where people try to kill him.
Hell, he hates Uday even more than the people who try to assassinate him, 11 times apparently, but those shmucks can’t tell them apart, which is the idea, I guess, of having a body double.
It’s a great set of performances at the core of the film, but that doesn’t mean that the film around it is that great. The way that the heady days of the 80s and 90s are recreated is pretty strong, and most of the actors they found to play these characters are pretty spot on, I guess.
The thing is, though, at no stage does any of this really feel like it’s a believable or credible flick. I’m not talking about the scenes where, like the villain from some even darker Grimm’s fairy tale, Uday is snatching school girls off the street, or raping brides on their wedding day, or killing people because he doesn’t like them, or forcing a whole party of people at gunpoint to strip. That stuff, awful as it is, seems exactly like the kind of vileness this petty, weak cockroach would be capable of. The stuff that doesn’t ring as true is, oh, I dunno, the entirety of the rest of the story.
I know that no film can or should be expected to reflect what really happened at any stage. All it needs, from my perspective, is to capture enough of the feel of it, and have a few facts to hang its coat and hat on. I guess the flick does that.
But a lot of it, especially the ending, just doesn’t ring true. The stuff preceding the ending, which involves scene after scene of Uday and Latif hanging out, with Latif barely keeping his contempt and loathing for Uday in check, just don’t make sense. I understand from a thematic and story-telling perspective that it can work, but it just doesn’t seem likely that a paranoid and awful person would want to spend so much time in public with the person whose existence is tailored entirely to keep you alive. Being able to create and maintain the illusion that you are elsewhere, to allow for assassins to target this other double instead of yourself, is somewhat undermined when you seem to spend every waking moment in public swanning around with your double.
The ending itself turns into some kind of lame Bond knockoff, which is understandable, since the director, Lee Tamahori, has already made a lame James Bond knockoff. It was called Die Another Day, and it represent the absolute nadir of the modern Bond flicks, and was at the very least the worst of the Brosnan ones. Tamahori broke out as a director with Once Were Warriors, a film still as strong, raw and painful today as it was when it first came out. This here flick The Devil’s Double, is probably the only other decent film he’s made since then. Even if this is good enough, there are times when the film seems to be flailing, and it’s not helped by the ludicrous ending.
It was pretty entertaining, all the same, even if it is in a sickening Scarface-kind of way. I’d even go so far as to say I found it one of the most compelling and entertaining flicks of this year, except for the pesky little fact that it’s not that great a flick. But it did keep that part of me entertained.
What part, did you ask? Well, it’s the part of me that can enjoy watching a lunatic walk around threatening people with golden guns, doing mountains of coke, and screaming at the top of his lungs.
You know, the religious part of me.
7 ways in which this was a truly unholy experience out of 10
“God is great. He gave me two sons. Now I have three.” – The Devil’s Double