David Gately

The Mad, Mad World of an Iraqi Prince

In Movies, The Devil's Double on August 9, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Ludivine Sagnier and Dominic Cooper in The Devil's Double

The Devil’s Double is a film about the unrepentant gonzo world of Uday Hussein, son of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

Somewhere in the middle of the movie, Uday storms onto the screen, once again, in an incoherent rant. Drug-addled, once again, he’s wearing aviator glasses beneath a pith helmet, a Hawaiian shirt atop short-shorts and white tennis sneaks and socks pulled halfway up his calves, à la Hunter S. Thompson. A surer exposé of Fear and Loathing in Baghdad could not have been better rendered.

Like Thompson, Uday Hussein worshiped alcohol, cocaine and firearms. Unlike Thompson, Uday bowed to God. But what he coveted way more than God was the four-letter derogatory term for vagina, which, if we weren’t already convinced, he reassures us when he screams the word five times, a celluloid first, I believe. For Uday, ___ is a power great than Allah and, ultimately – aside from Courvoisier, blow and gold-laminated pistols – his undoing.

The Devil’s Double is a cautious tale of the ruinous virtues of power, greed and crazy in the Iraqi desert. With sly tribute, but much respect, to my film-critic idol, the venerable Mr. Roger Ebert, the film packs a powerful, one-two movie-clichéd punch: it’s my 2011 must-see film recommendation. Be forewarned, however, The Devil’s Double is no Midnight in Paris. It’s “relentlessly violent and lurid,” said the Los Angeles Times. But it’s a deliciously sinful visage, nonetheless.

Thirty-three year old British actor Dominic Cooper plays Uday. Seen before in An Education (2009), Mama Mia (2008) and The History Boys (2006), Cooper gives an extraordinary, award-winning dual performance portraying Uday and Latif Yahia, Uday’s body double cum political decoy. His big brown, sleepy doe eyes convincingly channel Uday’s inebriated world. He lassoes everyone in sight, including a copious chattel of young and not-so-young, willing and not-so-willing concubines, into his toxic, psychotic web.

Cooper’s chilled, self-assured interpretation, tweaked by a languid body lingo, commands every millisecond he’s on screen; which, ends up, the entire movie. His Uday is a male Sharon Stone, a touch screen siren, super sexy, con cigarettes, sans panty-less short skirts and FM pumps.

Devil’s Double is a loosely based, no apologies fabulist’s revision of Latif’s story of his years of servitude – forced, among other mind-boggling cruel demands, to have plastic surgery and wear a malocclusion dental plate – to look and act as Saddam’s wicked son Uday. (In 2003, at the age of 39, Uday was assassinated when the U.S.military bombed his Baghdad residence.)

The movie’s direction and cinematography are equally stellar. New Zealand director, Lee Tamahori, who directed the 2002 Bond movie Die Another Day, (remember that bad Madonna theme song?), infuses tight, zippy control over the early 1990s disco-ball heady, bloody-thirsty storyline. It’s a slight bang-up ode to pulp auteur Quentin Tarratino. Filmed in Malta, with lush, sensual sepia photography, production designer Phil Kirby’s set renders people and places in a soft dream-like haze.

The supporting cast is strong, primarily the performances of Australian Phillip Quest as Saddam Hussein and French actress Ludivine Sagnier as Uday’s main whore de juer Sarrab. Quest, frighteningly, is a spitting image of Hussein. And the very attractive Sagnier, who was enthralling as a young summer ingenue in François Ozon’s 2003 thriller Swimming Pool, is now solid supporting-actress material.

Some film society needs to nominate Cooper for his turn in The Devil’s Double. The Huffington Post’s Jonathan Kim called Cooper’s work “an astonishing performance.” (Sadly, by time nominations roll around in January, his performance will be all but overlooked.)

Rockstar Weekly awarded the film a positive review, saying “Hats off to director Lee Tamahori for taking a controversial topic and turning it into a masterful film.”

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