Monday, September 16, 2013

The Devil's Double

Directed by Lee Tamahori.
2011. Rated R, 108 minutes.
Ludivine Sagnier
Philip Quast
Mimoun Oaïssa
Raad Rawi
Nasser Memarzia
Tiziana Azzopardi

We follow the exploits of Latif (Cooper), a young Iraqi soldier hired to become the body double of Uday Hussein, son of none other than Saddam Hussein. Okay, hired isn't the right word. Forced is more precise, as in made to under the threat of harm coming to him and his loved ones. Quickly, we find out what was apparently Iraq’s worst kept secret. Uday is a complete psychopath. Life with him is a never ending stream of sex, drugs, rape, and murder. None of this sits too well with the straight-laced Latif. How can our hero possibly escape the hell he’s found himself in? Complicating matters, there’s a girl. There is always a girl. Based on the life story of the real Latif Yahia.

I meant what I said about the never ending stream of sex, drugs, rape, and murder. The movie wastes no time settling into a pattern of showing Uday snort coke, drink, make a lot of noise, commit a violent and often sexual act, then repeating the cycle. The difference between one set and the next is that whatever heinous act he engages in is an attempt to top the last one. While all this is going on, Latif looks on disapprovingly. Actually, he completes the cycle of events by voicing his disdain and/or refusing to do something Uday has ordered him to, at which point we get a battle of wills between the two. This pattern continues throughout the first two acts. It’s interesting simply for the sheer nuttiness of it all, but is isn't particularly thought provoking. We know what each guy is going to do every step of the way. Everything in this world is distinctly black or white. Nothing either man does even slightly veers from the path they started on before the opening credits were finished.

For the third act, we switch gears into The Bourne Identity territory. Of course, our couple on the run is being pursued by a government nut-job instead of shady bureaucrats. This is when the movie starts to rapidly fall apart. Set up and timing go out the window. Our hero, with girl in tow, show up some place and the phone immediately rings with Uday on the other end. The explanation doesn't jive, given our knowledge of the timeline, and leaves us a bit perturbed because we suspected as much but it feels like an impossibility. When we get to the finale, the bottom totally falls out. The movie lets us know that it is exactly what it has been threatening to be. It is a film entirely about Uday Hussein’s penis. Never you mind that the premise is bursting with possibilities. A picture inspired by the true story of the body double of the volatile son of a ruthless dictator during the days leading up to The Gulf War can do no better than showcase the villainy of the pecker. Sigh.

As shallow as it turns out to be, The Devil’s Double is hard to take your eyes off. The insanity is constant and the performances of Dominic Cooper are a sight to behold. As Uday, he chews scenery with reckless abandon. As Latif, he mostly just scowls, but it’s effective. Unfortunately, neither he nor his antics can carry the rest of the movie’s flimsiness. They struggle under the pressure of being its savior. As a result, Cooper’s histrionics as Uday grow tiresome as they become increasingly cartoon-like. This, in turn, crystallizes the main problem. Two men who share a potentially amazing story are reduced to uninteresting archetypes.

MY SCORE: 4/10

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