You know you’re in murky moral territory when your movie’s voice of reason is Saddam himself.
As the opening scenes of The Devil’s Double cut from archival news footage to a palpably false-looking Iraqi desert, Lee Tamahori establishes the central premise of his film. This is a hall of mirrors in which we are repeatedly reminded that we can’t trust the evidence of our own eyes.
Based on the true story of Latif Yahia, an Iraqi soldier who became a body double for Saddam Hussein’s psychopathic son, Uday, The Devil’s Double is clearly intended to be a kind of knockabout nightmare; a bad trip through the Middle East of the late ’80s and early ’90s as seen through the eyes of a bewildered bystander. What actually occurs on screen is a tone-deaf melodrama of abusive ugliness and poor taste.
Dominic Cooper takes on the task of portraying both Uday and Latif, with only the tyrant’s buck teeth, squeaky voice and slicked-down hair to distinguish them. That, and the visible evidence that he’s been digitally stitched into the frame. Cooper huffs and puffs to portray the manic energy and knife-edge insanity that made Uday so dangerous, but there’s something fundamentally inert about the performance. It’s an experiment that simply doesn’t work.
Partly that’s because Latif’s narrative lacks drama. Yes there are the women, the nightclubs, the escape and retaliation. But compare it to the similar story of Nicholas Garrigan in The Last King of Scotland and a flaw becomes apparent. Garrigan was fooled by Idi Amin – for a brief but crucial moment he believed in the dictator. Latif never sees Uday as anything other than a monster; without that seduction, he has nothing to learn or to lose.
In a broader sense, Tamahori has no interest in whether Uday – rapist, torturer, murderer – was a product of a system that permitted these abuses. Or whether, given the circumstances, there may be an Uday in all of us. Instead, he is a reductive, cartoon villain – a paedophile with an Oedipal fixation. You know you’re in murky moral territory when your movie’s voice of reason is Saddam himself.
Looks like a great story with a bold acting gambit on top.
What is this exactly? What are these horrible compositions? What’s going on?
One of the ugliest films for a long time, visually and otherwise.