Directed by Lee Tamohori
With Dominic Cooper, Ludivine Sagnier
“Uday Hussein was a playboy with a history of violence and hooliganism, a womaniser, a rapist and a pathological killer.”
– 2003 obituary article (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/uday-hussein-548466.html)
Now who is going to object to a negative depiction of Saddam Hussein and his family today? Everybody knows that he was a heartless tyrant, right? And his son Uday a sadistic killer, or so the legend goes.
Well, this film recounts the legend of Uday Hussein, Saddam’s elder son, and truth be told, the reality as well, according to the man who served as Uday’s double in the 1980’s and survived to tell the story.
The Devil’s Double is based on a book written by Latif Yahia, an ex-Iraqi soldier who was recruited by Uday Hussein to be his body double because of his uncanny resemblance to him. Unfortunately the film is made in a good-versus-evil Rambo type genre, where nuances such as accurate cultural references are sacrificed completely to render an easy one-sided Hollywood-style conclusion: The good guy is absolutely good, brave hearted and courageous enough to save a nation single handedly, and the bad guy is so bad that killing him is justified.
And he may well have been. Over and above the electrocutions, whippings, hangings, finger breakings, dental extractions without anesthesia, and drownings, by all accounts Uday’s habits also included the rape of new brides still in their wedding dresses and the abduction of hijab-clad schoolgirls. Uday is depicted as the epitome of evil, which of course, in a totalitarian dictatorship operating in a complete vacuum is entirely feasible, even more so if you consider that the son was likely psychologically maimed by witnessing acts of torture shown by his father to toughen him.
The problem is that there’s just no grey area here, and the “good” brother, Latif, is too morally upright, possessing the super-human courage to defy Uday when most were terrorized into submission.
More Nuances May Give Better Balance, More Credibility…
Apparently the legitimacy of several of Yahia’s claims has come under scrutiny since his book appeared in 2003. But there again, it can be argued that someone who has been traumatized by torture and horror survives by doing things that non-affected human beings cannot understand. For that reason I’ll give Yahia the benefit of the doubt. As for the story line and direction, I think that in different hands, this story may have benefitted from a wider spectrum of nuances that would have given these historical facts a better balance, thus more credibility.
For example, I can’t imagine how Latif could have declared openly that he thought Ouday to be a psychotic, demonic truant, or openly criticized Saddam’s way of governing Iraq, while held captive and knowing full well what they did in Uday’s torture chambers… I don’t know either how a woman who was chosen to be at the beck and call of men at the “Royal Court” could be allowed to drive her own car outside the compound or speak directly to men at will, in a very Western way, even if she were a “whore”. I don’t know either if a representative of the Islamic republic would actually demand that everybody at his birthday party strip naked for him. Perhaps then it’s no mistake that the only time a prayer call is heard is during the scenes where Latif is at home with his perfectly righteous family… And another thing: I don’t know that Iraqis eat dinner sitting on the floor, women and men together, discussing daily matters just like any mainstream American family in Nebraska. The fact that the movie was shot entirely in English does nothing to dissipate doubt.
Same Actor Plays Both
Despite these questionable details that will get audiences sighing (or snickering), it must be said that both of the main characters — Uday and Latif — are played by the same actor (Dominic Cooper), a fact that I did not know until after I saw the movie. During the screening I thought I saw two actors in those parts… This of course is all to Cooper’s credit and perhaps also explains why one is so diametrically different from the other. Hats off then to Cooper for playing one and his own double, which is quite a feat, and also to the editing crew and artistic direction, as the golden filter of the RED digital camera gives a rather nice sunset hue to every scene.
So the legend of Uday Hussein takes shape, but it is nonetheless hollow. Especially in light of the fact that Saddam was defeated and his image all but destroyed in the public eye, it’s a bit simple to give such a linear, black and white portrayal of that dictatorship now, whereas so much could have been done to give some depth to the story. For that, the above-mentioned article fills in many of the gaps in the movie, if only to better understand Uday’s character development. For the rest, refer to current events.