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The Devil’s Double

August 13, 2011
The Devil's Double

There’s a psychological theory that says that, contrary to the received wisdom about the good of self-esteem, it can actually be a destructive influence, and sociopathy is the extreme end of this effect. It may or may not hold true for everyone, but it certainly seems to in the case of Uday Saddam Hussein. Among those who saw his erratic and violent behavior up close was Latif Yahia, who served as Uday’s fedai — his body double — for five years in the late ’80s and ’90s. After Uday’s death, Latif published a memoir of his experiences, which has now been turned into The Devil’s Double.

In this version, Dominic Cooper plays both Uday and Latif. We watch archival footage of the Iran-Iraq war, when Latif was pulled from the front lines and returned to Baghdad. Uday asks Latif to serve as his double, as he pointed out that Faoaz al-Emari served as Saddam’s (both played by Philip Quast). Latif, understandably, isn’t very interested at first, but a stay in Abu Ghraib and the threat that his family could end up there convinces him to go along with the idea.

And actually it’s not all bad. As Uday’s double, Latif has access to all of his wealth; his clothes, his cars, his women. However, to believe the movie — and by implication Latif — he never took more advantage than he had to. Uday, on the other hand, lives up to his psychopathic billing. He lives on cocaine and scotch; takes his pick of women, whether or not they consent; murders his father’s personal bodyguard, Kamel Hana (Mem Ferda). He generally treats Baghdad as a playground, and the people around him as his playthings. And to read some stories from other sources, he’s actually somewhat toned down from the real Uday. Uday’s assistant, Munem (Raad Rawi), and his favored paramour, Sarrab (Ludivine Sagnier), both tell Latif that there’s nothing to be done, and that he should just ride it out until Uday tires of him, as he eventually tires of everything, but Latif — again, to hear himself tell it — remained incorruptable.

Now, though everything shown about Uday and Latif might have been true, they both end up feeling a little short of fully-developed characters. Is there really nothing to Uday Saddam Hussein but lust and excess? Did Latif never make the most of his position, to turn some financial or personal profit as long as he was in a position to do so? But then there are a number of points relating to the timelines on which the movie seems hazy; if the memoirs had been similarly fast and loose, they would have been easily checked and debunked. It’s possible that this is more about screenwriter Michael Thomas’ adaptation than Yuhia’s storytelling. Either way, it’s easy to fault the movie for mining sensationalism rather than giving any real insight into either Uday as a person or what it was like to work as his double. But then, director Lee Tamahori is better known for action movies like the sequel to xXx than any particularly keenly incisive streak.

That all said, Cooper must be commended for his double role. What characterization there is of Latif or Uday is due entirely to his exemplary efforts. Whether seeing his performance is enough to salvage the film — historically-based or not — from the shoot-’em-up action scrapheap, I don’t know.

Worth It: it’s a tough call but I’m going to say no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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