Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Devil's Double

I went to the movies recently to see "Another Earth".  I came in hopeful for a thought-provoking intriguing SciFi movie that wouldn't be afraid to delve into serious emotions.  I left knowing that I had been lied to, conned, and completely ripped-off, so I snuck into "The Devil's Double" in order to get my full ticket price.  If "Another Earth" didn't want to be a proper movie about doppelgangers, then certainly a movie about Uday Hussein's body double can scratch that itch.  Might not be introspective SciFi, but essentially a mafia movie set in Saddam's Iraq?  Count me in on that!

First some history:  Uday Hussein, in case you didn't know, was Saddam Hussein's first-born son and nominal successor for many years.  Uday was also an extremely notorious sadist, being completely unhinged and uncontrollably insane.  And remember, Uday is in Saddam's Iraq, not exactly a place lacking in psychopaths working for the dictatorship, and somehow he still managed to stand out as being especially nuts.  He was so deranged that Saddam actually had to jail him for awhile after he murdered his father's main lieutenant in public, in front of the wife of the President of Egypt.  Eventually Uday was paralyzed in an assassination attempt, which mellowed him out considerably, and thankfully took him out of a position of command.  His younger brother, Qusay took over.  Both were killed in a firefight with US special forces during the 2003 invasion.

"The Devil's Double" is a movie made about Uday's body double, Latif Yahia, and is partially based on Yahia's own memoirs.  The main gimmic of the movie is that it stars only a single actor to play both Yahia and Uday, the British Dominic Cooper, who recently was Papa Stark in "Captain America".  Cooper is excellent in both roles, but it leads to a number of problems with the movie, mainly that the entire time you can't actually tell which one is the hero and which one is the dictator's son.   The gruesome horrors of Saddam's reign are pictured well, though, and the movie is fun.  Unfortunately, its just not fun enough.

Latif Yahia is probably one of the most bizarre figures living in the world today.  His autobiographies, according to this article in the Guardian, are factually dubious to say the least.  For one, nobody is actually sure if Yahia's main claim, that he served as Uday Hussein's body double is even true or not.  One reporter is fairly certain that's it all fake, and really the only evidence for Yahia's claims are his own word.  He could be just an outrageous fraud.  This is also a man who has claimed to have been a diamond smuggler, claimed to have had a love affair with a Saudi Princess who was later beheaded, claims to have been nearly murdered by his own brother, and claims to be on the watch list of over a dozen intelligence services.  And he's accused of being an arms dealer and an agent for the Baathist regime.  I don't know what to make of Latif Yahia, except a mixture of ironic entertainment and envy:  he's sure enjoying his media ride.  Yahia watched the entire filming process in Malta, and hobnobbed with his own actor.  If its all a fraud, he's a great scoundrel, and there might even be another whole movie worth making about this guy.

During "The Devil's Double", I immediately had to call fake on a number of events that took place during the last act of the movie.  I won't spoil them, but compared to what Latif's actual claims, they seem mild.  I want to see a movie about a diamond smuggling world adventurer who also is Uday Hussein's body double.  In this guy's life story, he set fire to an entire refugee camp.  He escaped from an Austrian secret prison - Austria has secret prisons?  Why is this not in the movie?  Amazingly, the director actually made Latif's story relatively grounded... while ending it in the most impossible manner ever (no spoils though).  They should have just gone crazy with this thing.

And I guess at some point I have to review "The Devil's Double" as well.  Unfortunately, there are a few issues here.  Dominic Cooper is a great actor, but he's so indistinguishable in both of his roles.  Uday and Latif look the same, have the same actor, dress the same, and even sound the same sometimes.  I can't tell who is who.  "The Devil's Double" doesn't even play around with this effect, it tries to act straight as a regular movie.  Really, the only way I can tell the two apart is because Cooper smiles when he's Uday and he frowns when he's Latif.  And then when Uday frowns, crap, now he's Latif.  Also, this entirely unintentional, but I really liked the Uday character more.  Dominic Cooper goes completely wild when he's Uday, and he's just so sullen and dull when he's Latif.  He's hugely overacting in one role, and underacting in another, there's no happy medium.  But when it comes between clownish villainy or dull heroics, I'll go with clownish villainy.

Another big problem here is that curiously, they filmed this movie in Malta.  Now, I've never been to Malta or Iraq, but I suspect that one, a desert country in the heart of the Middle East, and the other, an island nation in the middle of the Mediterranean, do not actually resemble each other.  But thanks to the wonders of CG, they replaced the Mediterranean with some sand, and called it a day.  This means that you get absolutely no view of Iraq beyond a few government compounds, a single city block, and one dance club.  They just couldn't fake a wide-scale view of the world of Saddam Hussein, and its really a missed opportunity.  After seeing "The Devil's Double", I have no idea what it was like to live under Saddam, but I do know that Uday was a crazy bastard - but a fun crazy bastard.

Uday Hussein also had a Porche 911 that was so beautiful that I wanted to marry it.  What was not that beautiful was the main heroine of this movie.  She's some actress named Ludivine Sagnier who I've never seen before.  She played Lady Gaga who was playing Uday's prostitute girlfriend.  Ludivine is probably a lovely woman in real life, but... how do I put this nicely... she doesn't have a face I want to look at for two hours.  Understand?

On a more positive note, "The Devil's Double" is basically a low-rent Middle Eastern "Scarface".  It wasn't a perfect movie, it was based on the life of a man who is almost certainly a liar, but it was still fun.  Sadly, it wasn't fun enough.  Cooper was great as Uday, he stole the movie, but he also dragged the movie into the ground as Latif.  Its a weird paradox.

Still better than "Another Earth" though.  Better by a mile.  Unfortunately, in between these two movies, I snuck into ten minutes of a FAR better movie by the name of "the Guard", starring Brendan Gleeson.  That was a hilarious cop drama with a detached sense of humor.  So I'll have to find a way to see that one next, because it was definitely the movie I should have seen.


  1. I remembered seeing the commercial late one night. Spent an entire hour googling Uday Hussein. Why do they make these movies so interesting and cool in the commercial, but when you spend your twelve bucks to go see it it's crap. Who are these people that give these movies "5 stars", "two thumbs up", and "best summer blockbuster". They must pay them good to lie like that.

    But anywho is there going to be a Cowboy vs alien Review?

  2. @Uzuki: Cowboys vs. Aliens looks like a rent to me, I don't know.