Monday, September 19, 2011

Late review by Sikander - THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE- a schintzy, duplicitous tale

The 80's were brilliant. If you were in charge.
There are echoes of classical themes such as Dr Frankenstein and his monster and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde in THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE, a portrayal of moral dilemma by director Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, Mulholland Falls, Once Were Warriors). Decorated and patriotic soldier Latif Yahia is chosen by Uday Hussein, Saddam’s eldest son, to become his body double. He is reluctant, but a spell in Abu Ghraib soon convinces him that the choice is not his to make.
In order to begin his new life afresh in the Hussein household, he is forced to allow his family to think he has died in battle. Making things even worse, in doing so, the deeply moral Yahia becomes an enabler for the psychotic and paranoid rapist Uday.

This predicament is about as nuanced and complex as Tamahori’s kitsch study in 1980’s opulence and corrupt dictatorship gets. Full of marble and gold plating, disco balls, it boasts an impressive soundtrack, including Depeche mode’s excellent “Personal Jesus”. There are obvious nods to De Palma’s Scarface in the machine guns, Cuban cigars, decadence and overactive thyroid glands which abound. Violent and unsubtle, it is nevertheless fun to watch (partly because of the aforementioned bold production values) and the main cast are convincing.

The mercurial Dominic Cooper plays both lead characters very well, switching between both contrasting personalities with ease. I’ll admit to a slight man-crush on our leading man, and Cooper is at his best, a charismatic uber-mensch in one breath and a spineless, Oedipal and repellent sociopath the next. This is Cooper in Band of Brothers, AN EDUCATION, and THE HISTORY BOYS, not TAMARA DREWE or MAMMA MIA. Revel in it.Ludivine Sagnier has smouldered since THE SWIMMING POOL and does not disappoint as Uday’s Lebanese mistress Sarrab. Sadly, the love affair between her and Yahia spoils an otherwise crisp and on-message story, but then it wouldn’t be the first time that a romantic sub-plotline has spoilt a film.

THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE is hardly a contemplative analysis of Iraq’s descent from the educated, professional and middle-class country it was in the 1970’s, a leader amongst Arab nations, to the pariah state it became after the first Gulf war, however there is a subtle point to be made in Yahia’s principled, everyman who feels feisance to his country but revulsion at the family which have styled themselves as it’s benevolent master whilst defiling it.Consider this movie an amuse bouche for Charles Ferguson’s excellent investigation into the failing of Operation Iraqi Freedom and its aftermath NO END IN SIGHT, and the equally impressive documentary THE FOG OF WAR.

THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE played Sundance, Berlin and Toronto 2011. It opened earlier this year in the US, UK, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ireland, Malta, Iceland and the Netherlands.

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